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Twelve-year-old Holly only wanted to be a singer and sing with Olivia Newton-John. But when her music teacher says to “give her voice a rest”, and her friend explains the meaning, she changes her aspirations to dancing. Since that day it seems to everybody around her, that she is always in perpetual motion, always practicing, rarely still.

Holly is the youngest of the Knighton women. Four generations all living under the same roof.

Dorothy, or “Greaty”, is Holly’s great-grandmother. The matriarch, who “unofficially” runs the household. Dorothy is working on a compendium to add to the 1905 Women’s Annual that her mother handed down to her. She plans on passing on both books to Holly.

Flora, or “Gran” is Holly’s grandmother. A strong feminist, who is usually found arguing with Dorothy. Arguments which are most often broken up by Lucy, Holly’s mother. Holly is torn between two men wanting to provide the best possible life for Lucy with a strong stable family unit. A contentious issue between herself and Flora, who does not believe that a man is essential for stability.

This is a wonderful story, staged in 1982, a very different world for women. While major progress has been made, thanks to many brave women, women were still treated as “stay at home mums”. If a woman did escape the stereotype, and forge a career, she would be paid considerably less for doing the exact same job as a man. "Si", one of the men courting Lucy is used as a metaphor for the patriarchal man.

The mix of four generations of women living together makes for great dialogue and conversations, especially as all the women are strong willed and head strong. Some of the arguments between Gran and Greaty go on for hours with Holly and her mother often leaving them to sort it out.

Just like Picton’s debut novel “The Family String”, the characters are such a joy to read. And the subtle humour that runs through the book left me with a smile on my face for the entire read. There is the postman who if he takes a liking to a letter, maybe the colour of the envelope, or a stamp that takes his fancy, then he keeps the letter, adding it to his hoard. Recipients left waiting forever. Then there is Barry, Holly’s best friend and dance partner, who continually messes up his cliches, and making up words, much to Holly’s chagrin.

“ a blessing in the skies”

“a picture’s worth a thousand verbs”

What stood out for me about this novel is the powerful bond, and the love between the four Knighton women. Despite their fights, and arguments, their love for each other radiates off the page.

When the dance marathon comes around, Lucy sees an opportunity to win some money to pay for dental braces for Holly. Holly wants a pair of skates just like the ones Newton-John wears in Xanadu. Her great desire, however, is for the marathon to be a stepping-stone, a launchpad, that will rocket her into a dancing career.

However, the dance marathon, is going to bring change. Lives will change. Another theme that Picton explores. Inevitable change and how each character deals with it. The world, our lives, are in constant change, it is our greatest fear. Changes are coming for Holly, how will she handle them?

This is a beautiful story about love, personal and societal change, relationships, and dancing.

From Denise's website -

When she was fifty years old, many, many years ago, it occurred to Denise to ask her mother where her name came from. Her mother claimed she went to the movies when she was pregnant in 1956 and on the newsreel preceding the film, she watched a lithe, athletic European shot putter called Denise practice for the Olympics and knew it was sign about what she should name her baby.

When Denise could find no evidence of a shot putter with that name in the Olympic records, it occurred to her that she might have inherited story telling tendencies from her mother.

Denise wrote when she was a child, and had poetry and short fiction published in her teens and twenties. Following a career in human services management, Denise established her own consulting company that sopped up most of her energy for several decades.

When she was in her mid fifties, it occurred to her that if she didn’t write a novel soon, she may need an aged care support person to hold the pen for her when she finally got around to it. She decided to write a novel every year until someone bloody well published one of them.

Because she worked full time and long days, she began the routine of reading on Saturdays and writing on Sundays. Six novels later, Ultimo Press read one of her books and offered her a book deal.

Denise considered writing under a pseudonym, but decided this would deny the legacy of the famous European shot putter.

"The Knighton Women's Compendium" is Denise's second novel following her excellent debut "The Family String".


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