The past is never history.
Eve, now 34 and a concert cellist living in London, returns to an Australian country town for the funeral of her old school friend, Meg. As Eve and Sarah, also a school friend, face their friend Meg's death, they must also face the past and the secret the three women shared.
Eve, Meg and Sarah met as boarders at Hetherington Girls' School in leafy Sydney. Despite their differences they became friends and as their years as boarders unfold they help each other cope with homesickness, new routines, different expectations.
Eve's parents own a chemist in a mid-sized rural NSW town. She is thoughtful, talented and uncomplicated. Meg is the tomboy of the group, the only child of a sheep farmer from western NSW. Her mother died when she was four and it has been Meg and her Dad on the farm ever since.
Sarah's parents live in the city and she is a weekly boarder. Her parents are busy professionals and thought it best for her routine and education for Sarah to board. Sarah tries not to look out the window of the boarding house and see the red tiled roof of her home four kilometres away.
Life changes for the girls when Rebecca Thornton arrives. Some bullies are created from the perfect storm: insecurity, intelligence, looks, a need for attention. Rebecca was born one.
In Years Eight and Nine at Hetherington, Rebecca plays her psychological games with Eve. There are small hits and big ones. She draws Eve in, making Eve want to be her friend, and throws her away for everyone's amusement. Eve's bullying manifests itself in self- harm. Sarah's impotence leads to her controlling one thing: her food intake.
At 15, Rebecca and her family go overseas, Meg returns from her scholarship and the girls' lives appear to return to normal. But in their final year of school Rebecca returns. She befriends the girls, then begins her games again. The events of their final year of school torment and scar these young women as they attempt to lead fulfilling and productive adult lives.
Reading Group Book Questions
About the Author
- Did the schooldays in Under the Influence immediately bring to mind episodes from your own school days? Why does bullying manifest itself in schoolyards?
- Are bullies, like Rebecca, made or born and how do they select their victims?
- Why does bullying make people like Sarah and Eve impotent?
- Meg had no mother, Eve’s lived a long way away and Sarah’s was busy. Do you think the lack of present maternal influences affected how these young women managed their school days?
- Did Eve and Sarah deliberately set out to harm Rebecca or were they just seeing what would happen? Would you have forgiven Eve’s duplicity if you were Meg?
Jacqueline Lunn was born into a family of writers in Brisbane. She began her journalism career in Sydney and has worked as a feature writer and editor for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and marie claire magazine. She has lived in London and New York and calls Sydney home where she lives with her husband, three children and a dog.She writes a column for The Sydney Morning Herald and is working on her second novel.