The Landing shows the usual trademarks of Johnson’s powerful fiction, with its wit and insight into the interior lives of her characters. This stunning new novel brilliantly observes what it is to be human and to love: in one swift, blindsiding move, Jonathan Lott’s wife leaves him. What he and his daughters find even more confusing is that she has left him for a woman. How is it possible that Jonathan saw no sign of her unhappiness?
Wondering what he will do now, and knowing a life lived alone is not for him, Jonathan retreats to his beach house at The Landing. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, a school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful, wild Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her?
With a cast of extended family characters, including the exasperating Marie, Penny’s vigorous French mother, Johnson examines family splits and secrets, exploring how much love matters.
This book came to me all at once, as if brightly lit on a stage. I was at a friend’s beach house, and he was pointing out to me on the way out of town that there was the house where so-and-so ran off with so-and-so and there was the place where the bloke went mad and chopped up his wife and that was the house etc etc
Now, I’ve always loved small English novels (Barbara Pym, Penelope Fitzgerald, Madeleine St John) and of course Austen is wonderful for taking a cast of characters, in one single place, and setting up something. It seemed to me that if I contained a book within a tight community, that things could get interesting.
I was thinking, too, of Austen’s most famous line about a single man of good fortune assuming to be in need of a wife. Why did contemporary life seem so much more ambivalent and tangled – or was it? Now that women can divorce, and the world has expanded – despite our small village communities all joined as one – how does that play out in people’s lives? What might a new story be like for a man of good fortune, but a divorced man, in the 21st century?
And then – at the same time because a novel is never about one single thing – I was thinking about coming back to Brisbane, and living outside Australia all those years. I’ve always been interested in exile, voluntary exile, and displacement, and being away, and homesickness. I began to dream of the character of Marie (who became my favourite character in the book) and how Brisbane has changed – and how it has not – and I was away.
I wanted to make a small, delightful novel – funny, but I also wanted to acknowledge the dark on the other side of light. As Edith Wharton wrote in one of my favourite books of all time Middlemarch (which is NOT a small, delightful novel), “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
I wanted to write a little about the noise of existence, a moment of light that lies on each side of darkness.