Lilian's Story by Kate Grenville

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Lilian's Story is the story of Lilian Singer (aka Bea Miles), who is born into a middle-class family but who eventually ends up as a bag lady, quoting poetry for a few pence, on the streets of Sydney. Lilian's early life, coloured by prosperity, advantage and the incestuous advances of her father was lived during an age when the words education and women were very rarely uttered in the same sentence, and it was only thanks to her independent spirit and strong will that she eventually gained admission to university.

An extremely intelligent woman, Lilian refused to conform to others' expectations, and, although her life took many turns for the worse, she always retained a cheerful and positive outlook on everything around her.

When I was a child, I often stayed with my grandmother, who lived in Paddington when Paddington was still working class. We would catch the tram along Oxford Street, and, sometimes, we would glimpse Bea Miles walking along the street. “That is Bea Miles,” my grandmother would say, not without a touch of sympathy in her voice. When I read Kate Grenville's book, it was with the feeling that I already had a 'connection' with the main character. The book takes those sketchy images from my childhood and expands them into a real person. Lilian's Story is a wonderful book - extremely sad, exasperating and, in parts, even humorous. I would definitely recommend it.

Photo of Kate Grenville from