A Review of And Then Like My Dreams by Margaret-Rose Stringer
This book is a life story, an odyssey as all good life stories are. It’s the story of a person who met another person and found in that person everything that was missing. Questions became answers, doubts became certainties. But it isn’t a quaint romantic tale to be narrated above the love theme from Romeo and Juliet. This is a true to life telling of what it is to find yourself through finding someone else. How two became one and the one was so much greater than either. How the two found a greatness in the rightness of their relationship and in the humanity of the other.
And it is a unique and individual story which at the same time reaches out to all of us. In the particular lies the universal. I read it sometimes as a sympathetic observer, sometimes with a detached empathy and oftentimes with fellow feeling.
It’s a poem, a love song and all the more special for being all the more real.
Those of us who have found purpose and possibility in life by meeting the right person, and have had the sense to realise their great good fortune, will find something rather special in these pages. It is more than a love story and it is more than an autobiography. It manages to paint a picture of what it is like to experience the ups and the downs and the going nowheres. It paints a picture of the everyday as well as of the occasions to be celebrated and you realise that it is in the beauty and honesty of the everyday that you discover the remarkable.
Margaret Rose Stringer portrays neither herself nor her husband, who she called Stringer (a touch that I find delightful) as saints. I like the volatile young Aussie woman who is liable to give back as good as she gets and often in a choleric outpouring that, while being blunt and to the point, was nonetheless not lacking in poetry. One minute I’m being charmed by the decency of their joint outlook on life and the next minute I’m being equally charmed by her ability to crumple a TV presenter in half a dozen lines variously referring to him as a moron, idiot, cretin and fuckwit. There’s a good leavening of grit in with the pastoral and I laughed aloud and cheered her on.
It would be hard to include spoilers in reviewing the book. I couldn’t steal thunder from the descriptions of their daily living and Margaret Rose (M.R.) herself tells you what is going to happen in the opening pages. She starts the book before the time she met Stringer and ends the book after Stringer has died. The decline in his health is painfully and truthfully drawn. You get the sense of caring as well as the feelings of inadequacy that we have when someone we love is dying. It’s moving and human. M.R. understands life and is able to bring that sense of truth to the pages of her book. There is no melodrama here just great decency, huge sadness and moments of sparkling delight.
There are times when things are going well. Both of them have important roles in the Australian film industry; M.R. as a continuity director and Stringer as one of the most respected stills men in the business. They have lean times when the lack of money impinges. But they always feel their richness in each other. They see through the good times and the bad with equal devotion and a shared sense of humour.
I love the attitudes. They don’t agree on everything, in fact they are very different people. The attraction is every bit as much the attraction of opposites as it is of the emotionally identical. On religion she is fiercely reactive to her strained Catholic upbringing, he, while resolutely atheist, is accepting and benign. On music and travel they are hand in glove and the chapters where they go off in search of Europe and opera sweep the reader along with them.
I’m of the same baby boomer generation and this story captures the times and the spirit better than any equivalent book I have read. We see inside the making of films as Australia becomes a major player in movies. We get a real sense of life in Sydney and Melbourne (and to a lesser extent, Perth). We get a feeling of what it was like to be young in the sixties and seventies and to grow older (together) throughout the great changes of the late twentieth century. But above all you get an important story well told. A story with its share of heartbreak and hardship but a story that transcends both and leaves you with a very warm feeling indeed.
I would have liked to have met Stringer. I can’t help feeling we’d have quite a lot in common. I’m pleased to say that I am coming to think of M.R. as a friend and I feel an altogether better man for having read her remarkable book. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you give it a go. If you can, get the paper version as the electronic one comes without photographs and the pictures are a treat in themselves.