The Golden Age by Joan London is a novel set 1950’s Perth. The Golden Age was an old pub repurposed to care for children with polio. Frank Gold, the oldest resident is the child of Hungarian refugees and the book is in part about his parents’ trauma and sense of being different in the big country town that was Perth in the 1950’s. (This so soon after we read AS Patric’s Black Rock White City.) When Frank is in the adult infectious ward he discovers poetry through his friend Sullivan who lives in an iron lung. Later he falls in love with Elsa and she becomes the focus of his poetry.
The consensus of Pocket Book Club to The Golden Age was a kind of a sigh and ‘ah it’s so lovely’ as if seeing a baby gurgle out its first smile. To be honest, I think the audible reading I had may have spoilt the book because my response was less joyful. It’s a gentle ride despite the hospital setting and the polio pain.
The Golden Age won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2015. The book was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin that year. The winner was The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna, a book I enjoyed for the voice of its protagonist Jimmy Flick – also a young boy.
The book naturally enough led to a discussion of polio. Our most mature member Kathleen had her first children in the 1950’s and remembers well the fear polio held for her.
Sue remembered Sister Kenny’s clinic in Brisbane – her mother talked about Sister Kenny with such reverence that as a child Sue thought she must have cured polio. Sister Kenny advocated the discarding of braces and callipers in favour of active movement. Her methods were criticised by her fellow Australians but the Americans loved her so much they gave her the key to the country and made a movie about her. I wonder if Joan London had her in mind when writing about the kind and cheerful sisters in The Golden Age.
In celebration of the 1950s, we had a sponge cake with cream. (Thanks, Mike, it was lovely). The next book is Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar.