Water Under the Bridge by Sumner Locke Elliott

Suzie Eisfelder

Sumner Locke Elliott is one of those iconic Australian authors. I know he spent most of his life in the US, but he was born here. This is the second of his books I’ve read and I’ve enjoyed the experience more than the first. You can see what words I wrote about Careful, He Might Hear You if you wish.

Water Under the Bridge is about Neil Atkins and the women around him. It’s incredibly sad, but beautifully written.

Our story starts the night of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Neil is asked to join the party to celebrate and watch the fireworks at the Mazzini house. It’s a big, rich house and Neil has been invited as he is Ben’s friend. He’s not really Ben’s friend, but Ben has no friends so Neil does his best, but falls in love with Ben’s sister, Carrie. We see what life is like for the rich (the Mazzini family), the poor (Neil is living with his parents’ friend, Shasta) and some people in between.

I found this book to be quite topical for today. Neil’s parents both died of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. We know this as the Spanish ‘flu. And while that’s all we see of the ‘flu, it does give us food for thought. As a side issue with this we are given some information on how bad the Great Depression was. Neil’s grandmother is finally tracked down, but can’t take Neil in as their farm is not doing well. She does manage to send some money each month to help Shasta look after Neil, but it was not enough.

Later on we see Australia at war, but for most Australians there’s no huge change, everything goes on as normal and the people on trams still turned to the racing results.

And that is typical of this book. We see the large events as if they are at a distance, but we see the minutiae of every day life close up. Even when the Japanese midget submarines came into Sydney Harbour, it’s as if it happened somewhere else, they read about it in the paper and don’t see any explosions.

I loved reading all these little things, and particularly loved the characters. I even loved some of the not-so-nice characters, they were so beautifully drawn. I could almost see some of them. And if I can find the eight-part series of the book made in 1980 I’ll definitely see them.

We’ve been shown the history, it’s better than in history books as we see the direct effect the events of the time had on some people.

This book seems to be out of print so I won’t give you an affiliate link. Thank you to everyone who’s been making me happy and clicking through.

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