BOOK REVIEW: Second Half First by Drusilla Modjeska (Review by Caroline Baum)

by |September 23, 2015

Second half firstWhat a welcome return this memoir is, from one of my favourite writers of non-fiction. Fans of Poppy, The Orchard and Stravinsky’s Lunch will, like me, welcome this finely woven lattice of memory.

In a tone of gentle melancholy (very similar to that of her speaking voice), Modjeska scrutinises her own intellectual development and the losses and sadnesses of her life: most particularly and movingly in a tender tribute to her father.

Another section of the book demonstrates Modjeska’s intrepid hardiness in exploring Papua New Guinea and becoming passionately concerned about the conditions there for children’s education. Unlike many intellectuals who would simply throw up their hands in dismay and perhaps write an essay, she decides to do something concrete. Here we see a different side to Modjeska – her hardy practicality and care.

She is also candidly revealing in her account of the painful ending of a long term relationship, ravaged by her partner’s mental illness and that of his son.

Modjeska’s personal reflection is interspersed with her thoughts about belonging, migration and the key writers who have influenced her writing life, most notably Virginia Woolf, thus adding another layer of pleasure and intelligence to this richly cerebral project of honest self examination.

Get your copy of Second Half First here

Second Half First

by Drusilla Modjeska

Beginning with the disastrous events of the night before her fortieth birthday, in Second Half First Drusilla Modjeska looks back on the experiences of the past thirty years that have shaped her Second half firstwriting, her reading and the way she has lived.

From a childhood in England, and her parents’ difficult marriage, to her time as a young newlywed living with her husband in Papua New Guinea; arriving as a single woman in Sydney in the 1970s and building close friendships with writers such as Helen Garner, with whom she lived in the bookish ‘house on the corner’, and the lovers who would – sometimes briefly – derail her, to returning to Papua thirty years later to found a literacy program, this new book by Drusilla Modjeska is an intensely personal and moving account of an examined life.

In asking the candid questions that so many of us face – about love and independence, the death of a partner, growing older, the bonds of friendship and family – Drusilla Modjeska reassesses parts of her life, her work, the importance to her of writers such as Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, among many others. The result is a memoir that is at once intellectually provocative and deeply honest; the book that readers of Poppy, The Orchard and Stravinsky’s Lunch have been waiting for.

Get your copy of Second Half First here

About the Author

DrusillaDrusilla Modjeska is one of Australia’s most acclaimed writers. She was born in England but lived in Papua before arriving in Australia in 1971.

Her books include Exiles at Home; the NSW Premier’s Award-winning Poppy; Sisters, which she co-edited; the Nita B. Kibble, NSW Premier’s Award and Australian Bookseller’s Book of the Year Award-winner The Orchard; Timepieces; and Secrets with Robert Dessaix and Amanda Lohrey. She is also the author of the bestselling Stravinsky’s Lunch and her first novel, The Mountain, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Award, the Western Australia Premier’s Award and the Barbara Jefferis Award.

Visit Drusilla Modjeska’s Booktopia Author Page


The Orchard Exiles at Home The Mountain



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About the Contributor

Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the former editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.


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