The Aunt’s Story boasts one of the great opening lines in the history of the novel: “But old Mrs. Goodman did die at last.” Following her domineering mother’s timely demise, Theodora Goodman embarks on a lengthy trip from her native Australia to pre-World War II Europe and thence to the United States. Much of the action of The Aunt’s Story is filtered through the increasingly disjointed consciousness of Theodora; hers is a psychological as well as a physical voyage.
The novel is divided into three sections, each of which takes place in a different geographical locale. The first part, “Meroe,” opens in Sydney with the arrival of Mrs. Goodman’s other daughter, Fanny Parrott, her husband, Frank, and her children, among whom numbers Theodora’s niece and soulmate, Lou. Such empathy exists between them that Theodora obliges Lou with a retelling of the story of her own childhood on Meroe, her father’s estate in the country named for a similarly beautiful place in ancient, mythical Abyssinia. Theodora, the eldest child, is the bane of her mother’s existence: Stiff, awkward, and sallow, Theodora often says and does startling things. Her beloved father seems to understand her, though, and so she enters his world, learning to shoot like a man and to love the land. Unlike Fanny, who is plump and rosy and who perfects piano and other acceptably feminine hobbies, Theodora hones her hunting skills and communes with roses and trees. Following Mr. Goodman’s death, however, Theodora and her mother move to Sydney, where Theodora waits on the old tyrant and enjoys a...
(The entire section is 655 words.)