Judith Clarke, My Lovely Frankie, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, 224pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760296339
I knew I’d enjoy this book as soon as I read the blurb and it didn’t disappoint. It is a superbly written story where the emotions you experience throughout stay with you for long after the last word is read.
Tom entered the seminary of St Finbar’s as a sixteen year old with love and devotion in his heart. He had found his vocation and was certain the priesthood was right for him. He knew nothing of the love that began to grow for Frankie, a love that confused and excited him in equal measure. This was a love so deep that it would change Tom forever.
The imagery throughout this story is rich and beautiful. The ‘lovely, lovely’ world is described in such a way that all senses are engaged. This acts in such stark contrast to the feeling of foreboding that it creates, a sense of being off kilter. There is never any doubt that something bad is going to happen and this kept me on edge for the entire read. It was not until about three-quarters of the way through that I predicted just what that was. This predictability did not, however, drain away the tension as I found myself frantically devouring every word in the hope my prediction was wrong.
St Finbar’s and the education of priests in the 1950’s is described in all its abhorrently detail. It is a cold, distant and hopeless place. The young boys are desperately lonely, frightfully neglected and appear to drown in this soul destroying environment where they are disempowered by the hierarchy of priests and brothers in the Catholic seminary. Frankie is a shining light for the younger members who long for some affection and attention. He shares his food and sings them songs in complete disregard for the strict rules of St Finbar’s. Through the eyes of Tom, it is easy for the reader to fall in love with the free-spirited Frankie. However, once again these glimpses of joy in the seminary act to drive the tension as St Finbar’s and all the dedicated brothers and priests reek of life’s ruin.
The comments on homosexuality in the 1950’s, and in particular in the Catholic mindset, is undoubtedly topical in the current Australian climate. It is therefore an important theme, along with its counterpart of self-hatred and exclusion, to be acknowledged and remembered among the younger generation of today.
Another significant theme that presented itself was that of waste; the waste of life because of choices, some others make for us and some we make for ourselves. This idea makes the story itself poignant to the very end.
Author, Judith Clarke experimented with a sophisticated writing style, jumping from present to different periods of the past where conversations meld together. Slowly the characters are developed deeply through snippets of the protagonist’s memories. This style of writing made My Lovely Frankie a deeply intriguing story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would by no means restrict the recommendation of readership to young adults. I highly recommend it to any reader who enjoys deep character development and sophisticated commentary on important issues relevant to contemporary society.
Reviewed by Katie Mineeff