When books and places collide – My review of Our Tiny, Useless Hearts

Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

 

Week three of my series about what I’m learning from reading and how that applies to how we can understand the physical world in which we live (you can read the previous ones here and here).

This week, Toni Jordan’s Our Tiny, Useless Hearts has prompted me to think about what we look for, and choose, in a house itself. How the choices we make regarding the style, scale, cost (and how much we borrow), and even how we decorate, might be driven by a range of factors.

Even though ‘Buy Nothing New’ month has passed, some of the biting commentary about some (admittedly very shallow) characters made me reflect as well. Why do I feel the need to shift things around, and update, quite often? What are the reason underpinning this – and when I think them through, are they actually necessary?

 

Brief overview

This novel focuses on the interactions of three couples and two small girls, over one weekend. It’s sparked off by the decision of Henry to dramatically announce the end of his marriage to Caroline by fleeing to Noosa with his daughter Mercedes’ grade three teacher, Martha. Caroline, having shredded a wardrobe-full of Henry’s suits, has gone after them. So Janice, ever reliable, drops any plans for the weekend to mind her two nieces in their homes.

The neighbours drop in, she discovers her ex-husband Alec still visits her nieces, and the escape to Queensland turns out not to be the new start Henry expects. So chaos and misunderstandings abound.

I found it a great read, as long as you suspend any credibility. Toni Jordan takes a storyline and applies more and more unbelievable coincidences, and more and more self interested characters to the point where they are no longer plausible – but that’s the point. By intentionally exaggerating them all, she drives home the way some of us could be heading, and makes it clear where her sympathies lie. And did I say it is laugh out loud funny? Toni Jordan has great comic timing, a wonderful way with words, and an ability to really get under the skin of a certain layer of Melbourne ‘culture’. It was a really fun book to read.

This book made me think about – whether we live our lives or get too caught up in displaying them?

In many ways, Jordan shows the superficiality of many of her characters. It’s apparent in the actions they take, the assumptions they make, and the way they make judgments of others based on what they can see and what they understand that to mean.

But one of the ways I found she pinpointed this most clearly was her descriptions of the homes where the events took place. They were located on an estate on the outer areas of Melbourne, where the way the homes appeared was all important. Grand homes, on manicured lawns, as an indication of what lay within.

And over time, the superficiality started seeping through to Janice, who was trapped within a toxic environment while her sister and husband-in-law battled over where they were heading in life. All Janice could do, while waiting, was to look around her:

‘All at once I hate everything about this house: the way the throw cushions sit on the couch just so, the ridiculous bottle filled with essential oil of fruit and flowers and stabbed with ludicrous reeds. It’s like a secret handshake, the way people arrange their lives. It tells the world everything about them. People allow themselves to be defined by their stuff so they don’t have to think about who they are anymore. Family houses, meant for families.’

I could have selected a number of others, but this paragraph in particular, made me think.

I love cushions, and can be partial to a flower arrangement or two. And I do have the urge, periodically, to start over, although I rarely follow through on this. None of these things, in themselves, are inherently bad.

However, if we use things (or decisions, or career choices, or activities) as a means of creating a personality, rather than working out who we really are, maybe it’s gone too far. If we feel self conscious about where we live, how we live, and whether it ‘measures up‘ to others, we are limiting who we are.

This sentence, in a nutshell, has been stuck in my mind –

‘People allow themselves to be defined by their stuff so they don’t have to think about who they are anymore‘.

For many of us, life can be busy (by choice, or by circumstances). Do we have time to work out what we like? Do we have time to think about who we are?It can be tempting to focus too much on stuff – and it can go the flipside too. Going without, if it’s to fit in with a specific external image we are trying to create, is also probably just as bad.

And, of course, curating it, and sharing it, has never been easier with the accessibility of social media. But, in the process, do some of us lose sight of who we really are?

Hopefully we have the opportunity to slow down, to work out what’s important, and to feel confident in who we are  free to be who we are – cushions and flowers and fruits or not. 

 

Have you read Toni Jordan’s Our Tiny, Useless Lives (or any of her other novels?)

Do you relate at all (or see this in others) to the trap of being defined by external issues, such as stuff – and does it worry you, or do you think it’s the way things are (and maybe an over-exaggeration?) 

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2 thoughts on “When books and places collide – My review of Our Tiny, Useless Hearts

  1. This book sounds great! And I love reading novels that are set in Melbourne. The themes really resonate with me. I have an ongoing battle with decluttering (or not). Overall I feel that we don’t need ‘stuff’ – it complicates things and drowns out the things that matter, but on the other hand I am emotionally invested in some things in my house – particularly things that belonged to my Mum. I think our homes should be a reflection of our personalities, but not the substance of ourselves. I’ll have to see if my local library has this book, as your review as piqued my interest. Thanks Helen. x

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    1. I love a personal connection to items too, or a rescued item (we are big side of the road collectors)! The book I found funny – it is way over the top (an intentional farce, I think it was described as) so when reading it, you need to suspend a lot of credibility! But the writing is tight, the dialogue is great and really funny, and there are little gems of insight in there – I enjoyed it (and I borrowed my copy too) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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