I’m sure most people know what it’s like to feel isolated. I certainly do. Whether the disconnection from the outside is due to illness, mounds of studying, work or family, there’s always that wonderful moment where you’re released back into the world, and rediscover all the delightful things you knew existed but were simply ignoring for the time being. It’s almost a relief to find that they are still there, waiting for you to come back and enjoy them.

Elizabeth Jolley’s Miles Franklin award-winning novel The Well very much encapsulates that feeling of isolation. Hester Harper and her adopted daughter, Katherine, live on a large property deep in the country, with only each other and a few chooks for company. The novel opens with a terrible accident that occurs when the two of them are driving home one night, yet the reader is left hanging and doesn’t discover the aftermath of the accident until later in the novel. Jolley first establishes Hester and Katherine’s relationship and daily lifestyle before revealing the fragility of such reliance upon one other person.

Elizabeth Jolley was born in England in 1923 and moved to Western Australia in 1959. She died in 2007 and is one of the authors featured in the Australian Classics book. I’d heard of her, but I’d never read any of her books. Jolley’s vivid characterisations form the foundation for the consequences of isolation which emerge from the book. When is it time to stop protecting and allow outside influences in? Is it possible to survive on the cusp of society?

There were times I found the prose lagged along, and about halfway through I started not to care about what Hester and Katherine’s life was like up until the accident; all I wanted to know was what happened afterwards. But I stuck with it and it picked up towards the end.

Everyone feels isolated at some point in their lives, and The Well explores the dangers of becoming too comfortable within such an existence. The novel is an enjoyable read, although, for me, I expected more from the ending than what I got.

The Well

First published by Viking, 1986, Penguin Books, 1987

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