(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Tirra Lirra by the River begins when Nora Porteous, age seventy, return from London to Brisbane, to her family home which she left forty-five years earlier. Weary from her long trip, Nora succumbs to pneumonia and is attended during her long convalescence by a kind local couple. In bed, in series of searching remembrances, Nora takes the reader through three periods of her life: her romantic, unhappy girlhood in Brisbane, her years of marital oppression in Sydney, and her years of struggle and happiness in London. These recollections are fragmented and amplified by her interaction with those who care for her during her illness.

Nora’s girlhood is dominated by her mother and her practical sister Grace Unlike them, she is dreamy, artistic, yearning for escape. Though she earns living as a clerk, she, like the Lady of Shallot, creates beautiful things-embroidery, clothing, wall hangings—to fashion a world more beautiful that the one forced on her.

Two women contrast with Nora’s family and impress her as kindred spirits With Olive Partridge, Nora shares books and a desire to escape. With Dorothy Irey Rainbow, Nora shares an unspoken sense of entrapment and panic, a sense Nora recognizes as the two women pass each other on their solitary. endless walks about town. Later, Nora learns that, like her, Dorothy attempted suicide; Dorothy’s attempt, however, was successful—and when she took her own life, Dorothy killed several members...

(The entire section is 586 words.)