BOOK REVIEW: Magda Szubanski: Reckoning

October 19, 2016

reckoningMagda Szubanski

Reckoning: A Memoir 

Magda Szubanski is one of the stars of the cult show Kath & Kim; a hugely popular writer and performer, and – more recently- a vocal advocate on LGBT issues.  In her memoir Reckoning, she explores the complex legacy of her father, an assassin for the Polish Resistance who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution and reveals her own journey coming to terms with her sexuality and finding her own sources of courage.

image-20150929-30986-15m9k5fSzubanski’s Reckoning is a seriously curious book, I was expected the ‘rise to fame story’ of Australia’s favourite funny woman and some reflections on growing up lesbian in a dull Sydney Suburb but instead got a hugely life affirming journey stuffed full of moral reflections deep philosophical ideas on the nature of redemption and evil and an introduction into the family of Szubanski which illumined as much as entertained and enthralled me as much as it instilled a huge sense of respect for how people carry on after life deals them a hand I would struggle with.

Reckoning is operatic in its scope and emotional range, the book gripped me from the off, not only is the narrative driven with an energy and natural grace but her prose is elegant and creative, wrapping itself around you and staying with you long after the book is shut for the night.  Some authors have a voice that imposes, Szubanski’s engenders respect and it’s so refreshing to read a memoir that is only slightly about the fame and achievements of the author and much more about the growing up with an extraordinary family embedded itself firmly into everydayness.

843469c077372837bab1eb49559f5727Szubanski’s ability to reflect and find meaning in the contradictions of her relationships with her father and mother also allow us insight into their own lives, one she endows with respect and a distance that allows us to see them as complex people with difficult pasts. We feel their journey and hence that of their daughters as she comes to terms with her own sexuality and the inheritance of family, the stories and truths, the mysteries and actions. The very stuff our families are made of, that makes us and what then we use to make of ourselves.

Szubanski’s Reckoning is as surprising as the performer herself, known for diverse and daft roles and enjoying a familiarity with the Australian public that many other people would kill for, her modesty seems to arm her for an ability to tell ( and extract) the truth with a careful disregard for the consequences. The parts of the books around her own coming out are funny and juxtaposed with her mother’s worries about the reactions of her own, elderly friends. It’s a kind perspective. She takes on her journey into teenage years via nutty nuns and oddly divergent experience of schooling, we meet her crushes and friends and also learn about the internal strife and struggle that lead to years of unhappiness, as many of therapy and some sort of ultimate acceptance. Szubanski is the ultimate proof that hope is as cheap as despair.

Read this superb interview (& check out the photo’s many from the book) with her in the Sydney Morning Herald where she talks about the book, her family and early career.

I was expected a funny women memoir, a climb to fame, a coming out showbiz book, stuffed with anecdote and humorous asides but with no real substance, how more wrong could I have been. The book is certainly stuffed with funny anecdote, brilliantly described family moments of awkwardness, madness and laugh out loud funniness, but’s its driven through with this constant quiet sotto voce, asking, asking, asking. Wanting to know the answers and understand. The Polish for that, she tells us at the beginning of the book  is rozumiesz. ‘Many conversations in Polish,’ she writes, ‘begin with that word.’

5Utterly superb, an eye opening book, even if you’re a hard hearted non laughing idiot who’s not interested in the  perfectly pitched comedic work of Szubanski this profound and delicately entertaining book on a women’s struggle to illuminate and understand a stunning family history that reflects the full range of the 20th centuries own terrible times is gripping from the very first sentence.

Magda Szubanski is in Brighton next month, on the 2nd November to talk about and sign books in Waterstones in North Street. If you would like to attend see the website here,  there is a charge for the event.

Reckoning: A Memoir

Out now

By Magda Szubanski

For more info or to buy the book see the publisher’s website here: