“Her feet aren’t touching the ground now, but treading air, churning up the stones in front of her, which slide across the surface. She laughs with the freedom of movement, Joe with her, no one else but them in the night…”
– Ariella Van Luyn, Treading Air
In 1920s Queensland, Lizzie O’Dea wants to get away from her dad and the memories of her mum that haunt her. At the races she meets attractive, war-scarred Joe and sees her chance to escape. But life with Joe isn’t what she dreamt it would be.
Finding herself on the fringes of society, Lizzie discovers a new sense of independence and sexuality, love and friendship. It’s a precarious life, though, always on the edge of collapse.
Two decades later, Lizzie is sick and worn out. Lying in a Brisbane lock hospital, she thinks about Joe, who’s been lost to her for many years. But she’s a survivor. There’s hope yet.
Set between Brisbane and Townsville, and based on real events that the author uncovered from historical archives, Treading Air is the remarkably vivid tale of a young Australian working-class rebel who clashed with the expectations of her world.
As a reader, there are many times when we pick up a book, read the blurb and decide that it sounds like the kind of book we want to spend time with. I like to think that I have pretty good bookish intuition – I am usually spot on when it comes to judging what a book will be like (yes, I know we are told we shouldn’t judge a book by the cover but we all do it!). I love to be surprised and I love it when I’m wrong… especially when a book turns out to be SO much better than I thought it was going to be. Treading Air by Ariella Van Luyn is brilliant yet left me a tad conflicted… let me explain myself more!
The story begins in Brisbane 1945 with our main character Lizzie lying in a lock hospital bed surrounded by other sick women, with one in particular tugging on the strings of her memory, a familiarity that Lizzie can’t quite put her finger on. Moving between the 1920’s and 40’s we follow Lizzie though time. As a young woman, Lizzie is desperate to escape her bookie father. She meets Joe at the races and after a short courtship, they marry and move to Townsville where everything is new and exciting and really hot! Joe is damaged from the last war war and quickly loses the job that was set up for him before they arrived. Lizzie is offered a job with a one-night trial and she takes it up. As it turns out, sex work suits Lizzie and she decides to keep it going, much to the disgust of her husband. However, they need the money… at least that’s what Lizzie tells herself. New connections and opportunities all lead to one eventful night where their lives take a nasty turn…
The first thing I want to mention is the stunning cover. It is evocative, moody and sexy! It set the scene before I had turned to the first page… the perfect beginning in my mind! Treading Air is based on a real woman whom Van Luyn uncovered during her research on Townsville. Lizzie O’Dea was a petty thief and sex worker in the 1920’s and Van Luyn has reimagined her life in this story and brought a young woman from the fringes of society on to the main stage. With a very distinctive writing style, Van Luyn creates a vivid picture of the characters’ lives and the time they lived in. Lizzie is a fascinating character. By all accounts, this story is the beginning of Lizzie’s sexual awakening and development of her character. She grows in confidence, owns her decisions and forges her own fate. In the other reviews I have read, she has been described as tough yet sensual, passionate and highly independent. But here’s the thing… I didn’t connect with her at all. I loved the story and thoroughly enjoyed the writing… I just didn’t like the characters – none of the main ones any way! I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. There were definitely parts of them that I identified with – the desire for independence, strength and hope, and yet I felt there was an aloofness that prevented me from really getting to know them. Perhaps I just read it at the wrong time… whatever the reason, I still encourage you to add this book to your TBR pile. It is well worth the read!!
AUTHOR: Ariella Van Luyn
PUBLISHER: Affirm Press
PUB DATE: July 2016
Thank you to Affirm Press for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!