Midalia, Susan. The Art of Persuasion. Fremantle: Fremantle Press. RRP $24.99, 248pp, ISBN: 9781925591033
‘Persuasion,’ the last fully completed work of Jane Austen and part title of Susan Midalia’s new novel The Art of Persuasion. An intimate story of modern day life, superior craftsmanship and humorous triple liners warranting a grin, ‘he was wearing a pair of scruffy jeans, a long baggy white shirt. He had a mop of greying hair in need of brushing. If he was the answer to fashion, he clearly hadn’t heard the question,’ (35).
Set in Perth, the novel features lovely descriptions of surrounding city suburbs such as Bay View Terrace in Claremont, ‘The street was bristling with gym-fit mothers and their sylph-like daughters. Hazel felt invisible among these glamourous women, as she walked past funky boutiques and the trendy hair salon, the restaurant with windows so dark that people on the outside couldn’t possibly see in. Talk about symbolic’ (10).
We are exposed to Hazel, the novel’s protagonist, through the novel’s third person narrative. From her intelligent inner dialogue, Hazel appears wiser than her years but finds herself in a funk. After quitting her day job as a teacher after an unsavoury incident involving a student spitting on her in class, Hazel applies for a multitude of employment; jobs quite different from her profession. And like most of today’s society, she isn’t getting anywhere fast. With no job prospects on the horizon and flatmate Beth, also a teacher, relaying harrowing stories of the schoolroom, ‘I got the sack, a mother complained cos I told her year nine brat to pull his head in. I wish I’d told him to shove it up his arse instead’ (7), Hazel decides to start reading the less popular classics in alphabetical order, starting with Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Austen’s novel Persuasion is the catalyst for Hazel meeting a mysterious, older man on the train after yet another humiliating job interview. The man (Adam) is also carrying a book, which is rare to their environment, and the two strike up a conversation. They discuss literature and Hazel leaves Persuasion on the train. Adam chases after her with the book, resulting in them going for a drink together.
Hazel is roped into volunteer door knocking for the Greens party by a friend, and coincidentally, Adam and Hazel meet again. Adam dubs Hazel ‘admirably persistent’ (88) in her pursuit of persuading the public to swing their vote for the Greens. They bond over doors slamming in their faces, politics and gaining deeper insight into each other’s lives. From then on Hazel must navigate through her increasing feelings for Adam and the hot and cold signals he is giving her through his personal insecurities: he is a widowed man in his forties with a young son named Jessie.
The door knocking is cut short when Hazel gets some relief work teaching at a high school, catapulting her back into her familiar scholarly world. Hazel is mindful in trying to capture the attention of her students by trying to persuade them to think for themselves. During this time away from Adam, Hazel has many revelations in the form of the spitting student’s boyfriend from her old school, Adam’s son Jessie and Adam’s sister-in-law Candace who discloses details Adam couldn’t divulge to Hazel himself, resulting in her being able to use her ‘art of persuasion’ to get her happy, and quite erotic, ending.
As with her other works of short stories, An Unknown Sky and Feet to the Stars, Susan Midalia is in touch with a plethora of fictional characters from all walks of life. She seems to nail each one’s persona down to a tee, from the five-year old boy in The Art of Persuasion to the twenty-five-year old protagonist.
The Art of Persuasion is a novel of our times in its political aspects of the refugee debate and the Green’s party principles, to its portrayal of the unemployed and unsupported teachers in the education system. This is a highly entertaining tale; one that teaching professionals will be able to relate to and commiserate with. And one for anybody who enjoys exceptional writing.
Joanne Morrell is an author and freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia. She is the current newsletter editor for the Children’s Book Council of Australia, WA branch and is busy working on her middle grade masterpiece.