Family Baggage by Ilsa Evans
Family Baggage by Ilsa Evans
Family Baggage
Ilsa Evans
  • Category:Australian Fiction
  • Date Read:15 April 2023
  • Year Published:2023
  • Pages:386
  • 4.5 stars

It is often said that the most stressful things in life are getting married, changing your job and the death of someone close. I can attest to all three of these, though I think the last definitely comes in as the most stressful, or it did for me anyway, on at least three occasions. Why is this usually the case? I think it’s because of the interactions with so many people, mainly relatives. At a time when family should be banding together to help each other get through their emotions, the sheer necessity of getting funerals, wills and the finalisation of their loved one’s possessions done, can sometimes cause, let’s say, stress and bad feelings.

Family Baggage is about his kind of situation. When their widowed mother, Enid passes away relatively suddenly, she leaves four adult children behind – three daughters, Kat, George and Annie, and a younger brother, Harry. All are middle-aged. The three women undertake the task to go through the process needed once an estate is to be divided up and passed on. Kat, the eldest, the ever-bossy one, makes ‘suggestions’ as to how things should be done, but all the while feels put out if things don’t go her way, because . . . they usually do. George, the middle daughter, probably the most empathetic and missing her mother the most, is the mediator: always trying to keep everyone happy and trying to keep the peace, George often feels that she isn’t doing what she wants to, but needs to maintain harmony in the group. Annie, the youngest, is the petulant one: always sulky, and upset because she feels she is being bullied and mistreated by the others. So, all in all, the three daughters are the embodiment of sibling rivalry. It is a rivalry which has always been there, simmering, but is now starting to explode. Then there is their younger brother, Harry, disabled, who has special needs of his own: all the sisters ‘look after’ Harry, just as their mother did.

Added to this family mix are their own families: husbands and children in particular, most of whom have had strong links with Enid. So when it comes to sorting out the house and dividing up her belongings, they are to be included, not necessarily in how the possessions are divided, but certainly to receive some memories relating to granma.

Kat decides they have a week to sort through everything in the house and divide their mother’s possessions, suggesting a process which, to some of the others, seems overbearing and unnecessary. Nevertheless, they move ahead with it, to varying degrees of success along the way. This causes more rivalry and bad blood amongst the women, making the process more difficult by the day. As this extended family gets together to work through this process, there is a lot of bickering and angst, and sometimes things are said in anger that cannot be easily forgotten.

In addition to all this, in the process of sorting rooms, they find some surprising items and start to realise that Enid may have led a very different life to what they expected. A diary leads to the realisation that secrets may change people’s perceptions of their mother and people’s lives forever. The sisters get an insight into what their mother thought about them, as well as an insight into their mother’s private life they hadn’t guessed at. Each of the sisters must come to terms with what they discover. George, in particular, as well as the settlement of her mother’s belongings, has her own family issues to deal with and this leads to her finding it difficult to cope with everything happening at once.

As I read Family Baggage, I found myself empathising with some of the aspects of this experience, remembering a particularly nasty division of belongings my mother went through with one of her siblings when her mother passed away years ago. You can’t understand how a family who grew up together can make such a sad time so much more difficult for each other and so much about belongings, but it happens so often that this is the case.

Nevertheless, there are also some laugh-out-loud moments in this novel, which you just don’t imagine happening at a time like this. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While it was definitely quite serious in its story line, parts were quite light-hearted and funny.

Also, as an Australian, I found that it was also nice to read an Australian novel and to be able to recognise the places and times referenced in the story. It was certainly a change from my usual crime and legal thrillers. I can highly recommend Family Baggage.

Ilsa Evans
Ilsa Evans
Ilsa Evans is an Australian author of fourteen books. Her website can be found here.
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