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The Performance

The Performance 1

by Claire Thomas
Publication Date: 23/02/2021
5/5 Rating 1 Reviews
RRP  $32.99 $24.75

The breakout literary sensation of 2021 from the prize-winning author of FUGITIVE BLUE

The false cold of the theatre makes it hard to imagine the heavy wind outside in the real world, the ash air pressing onto the city from the nearby hills where bushfires are taking hold.

The house lights lower.
The auditorium feels hopeful in the darkness.

As bushfires rage outside the city, three women watch a performance of a Beckett play.

Margot is a successful professor, preoccupied by her fraught relationship with her ailing husband. Ivy is a philanthropist with a troubled past, distracted by the snoring man beside her. Summer is a young theatre usher, anxious about the safety of her girlfriend in the fire zone.

As the performance unfolds, so does each woman's story. By the time the curtain falls, they will all have a new understanding of the world beyond the stage.

Contemporary fiction
Publication Date:
Hachette Australia
Country of origin:
Dimensions (mm):
Claire Thomas

Claire Thomas is a Melbourne writer. Her acclaimed first novel was Fugitive Blue, which won the Dobbie Award for women writers, and was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Claire holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne where she teaches literary studies and creative writing.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

5 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • An extraordinary novel exploring women's lives

    by on

    "To have been what I always am – and so changed from what I was." (from “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett).
    I found The Performance extraordinary. It's certainly my standout read for the year so far.
    The three main characters, from whose perspectives the narratives are alternately related, each (separately) view the same Melbourne production of Samuel Beckett's beguiling play Happy Days. Intertwined with their reactions to the action on-stage are their private musings. These range from the minutiae of physical discomfort due to other theatre patrons or the temperature in the theatre, to their reflections on turning points in their personal histories, massive life decisions and the challenges they're currently facing.
    Margot, a university literature professor in later middle age, who has reached the pinnacle of her profession, is facing unwelcome pressure to retire, to make space for "new blood" in her faculty, while simultaneously suffering from her husband's decline into dementia and their adult son's apparent indifference to her.
    Summer, a 20-something drama student, is working as an usher in the theatre to supplement her meagre income. She's preoccupied by the knowledge of a bushfire currently raging on Melbourne's outskirts, to which her girlfriend April has rushed, in hope of helping her parents save their bushland home.
    Ivy, in her early 40s is attending the play as an honoured guest, in anticipation of the large donation her philanthropic organisation will make to future productions. While on the surface she appears the urbane woman who has it all, she's struggling with new motherhood, after a hiatus of fifteen years since her first child died from SIDS.
    There are many common themes running through the three women's search for identity and self-fulfilment in the face of their insecurities. Each of the three characters is well-developed, multifaceted and beguiling. Unlike my reader experience with many titles using a multi-narrator format, I didn't find that I was more drawn to one story than the other(s), ploughing through one narrative to return to the more interesting one. While, in terms of age and life-stage, I have most in common with Ivy, I found personal resonances within all three of the women's stories.
    I'll admit I don't have a great familiarity with the work of Samuel Beckett, and hit the internet mid-read to bring myself up to speed. While I don't feel that knowledge of the play would be necessary to enjoyment of this book, I was greatly impressed by the way Claire Thomas cleverly interwove and echoed the themes from Happy Days into The Performance.
    This was an enthralling and stimulating read, and I would recommend The Performance to any and all readers who seek intelligent contemporary fiction or are interested in the lived experience of women in modern society.
    My thanks to the author, Claire Thomas, publisher Hachette Australia and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this excellent title.