LATEST NEWS:

Students and staff say no to the Robert Menzies Institute

Students gathered on South Lawn yesterday to protest the opening gala of the Liberal-backed think-tank Robert Menzies Institute (RMI).

An open letter to all student politicians

As sleek Facebook frames are slowly being removed from the profile pictures of university students in their early twenties, and social media feeds are returning to normal from constant ‘vote for me’ c

"Please don’t ask if we’ve tried yoga”: Students fighting for disability support

Despite the University’s push to make learning accessible, through programs such as SEDS and Access Melbourne, there have yet to be endorsements from students that these programs are appropriate. Inst

Cinemas Buckle Under the Weight of the Netflix Empire

Will Hollywood blockbuster-type films continue to use Netflix as their outlet, or will they return to their rightful spot on the big screen?

Stop the Liberals, Join the Campaign against the Robert Menzies Institute!

The federal government, led by the Liberal Party, is bludgeoning universities. Since the onset of the pandemic, they have excluded thousands of university workers from JobKeeper, ramped up fees for se

 

News Article

Review: Endless Summer Afternoon

The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper is both a razor-sharp crime novel and an incisive portrait of race and gender in late 1950s American suburbia. Sunnylakes is an upper-class district on the outskirts of San Francisco, and visions of the town in heady summer suburbs envelop the reader–two-story houses with green lawns and white picket fences, white husbands with white-collar jobs and white housewives. In an environment where appearances are everything, the sudden disappearance of a housewif

The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper is both a razor-sharp crime novel and an incisive portrait of race and gender in late 1950s American suburbia. Sunnylakes is an upper-class district on the outskirts of San Francisco, and visions of the town in heady summer suburbs envelop the reader–two-story houses with green lawns and white picket fences, white husbands with white-collar jobs and white housewives. In an environment where appearances are everything, the sudden disappearance of a housewife comes as a shock. The Long, Long Afternoon traces the investigations into this disappearance, and revealing the cracks in the American Dream, and unravelling its plot with admirable precision.

Vesper alternates between three perspectives: the white cop/detective Mike, recently reallocated from New York after sleeping with a witness; Ruby, a young black woman who cleans houses in Sunnylakes; and Joyce, the housewife herself, recounting the afternoon that she disappeared.

Flashbacks from Joyce’s first-person perspective are entwined with the main whodunnit plot throughout the novel, an intriguing choice which definitely heightens the audience’s investment in Joyce and her past. Through these flashbacks, the audience is presented with the context for certain clues and pieces of information directly before or after the same events are reconstructed by Mike and Ruby in the present day, allowing us to puzzle out the case alongside the characters.

Mike and Ruby’s third person narrative voices unfortunately tend to blend into one another, distinguishable by what they are narrating rather than how they are doing it. Yet, Ruby is, by far, the most compelling narrator, with the most at stake — her determination to liberate herself by attending college may overvalue the education system, but it also makes her a feisty main character, and one easy to support. In contrast, Mike only hopes to redeem his own reputation by solving this case, a circumstance which alternates between sympathetic and insignificant, and his disregard for his wife is mostly contemptible. In either case, the characters in The Long, Long Afternoon are well-developed, turning numerous potential caricatures into people with complex lives and motivations.

Vesper weaves a rich tapestry with her vivid depiction of early Cold War America as a stifling and heteropatriarchal environment, one which was just beginning to nurture movements for Black and women’s liberation. The suburb of Sunnylakes recalls the 1998 film Pleasantville, where houses are immaculate and faultless, hiding the more sinister things that lurk underneath. The reader’s relation to the setting is almost voyeuristic, enhanced by the fact that both main narrators are outsiders, observing an almost alien setting. In one instance, Ruby captures the eerie atmosphere when she notes, “It’s like the house is trying to convince you of perfection from the outside in. An imitation of happiness.”

Vesper’s prose remains descriptive, though sparse, throughout the novel, contributing to a tense and unsettling atmosphere: “While Ruby waits for the bus, she checks her nails. There are traces of brown stuck in the grooves of her skin. She rubs them against her blouse, but the blood won’t come out that easily.”

Dialogue is equally sharp, making the novel a relaxing and scintillating read. Readers are pulled into a world where secrets lurk in pot plants and are whispered into a listening ear. And, whilst social justice issues can often feel shoehorned into fiction, here they are convincingly and compellingly absorbed. Vesper’s society anticipates movements that will sweep the following decade as she depicts the machinations of the Women’s Improvement Committee which Joyce attended, just one of many committees supporting unhappy housewives; the committee’s treatment of a lower-class woman, who only the president seems to actually care for; the persistence of racism despite desegregation; Ruby’s boyfriend’s involvement in the Black men’s committee, their hopes for equality, their continual exclusion of women, and their protest against forced evictions which police escalate into a riot. Again, Ruby is a highlight here, through whom Vesper examines the intersection of class, gender, and race with nuance.

The risk of reading historical fiction about social justice is thinking that such issues are contained to the past. It is not difficult to identify that racism, classism and misogyny present in this novel continue to run through society today. In particular, the scene of a peaceful demonstration being met with police riots should be chillingly reminiscent of the continued global Black Lives Matter movement. Even so, The Long, Long Afternoon is, indeed, a slice of the past, largely unconcerned with allegorizing modern-day society and rather more interested in the personal struggles of ordinary people. In this historical element, it excels. When historical fiction does not go out of its way to be relevant or serve as a call to action, it is the reader’s responsibility (arguably, their duty) not to become complacent, and instead to remain aware and to make these connections.

I read The Long, Long Afternoon primarily on public transport, on rattling trams and trains. For up to an hour at a time, I slipped into a different time and place, and the book kept me immersed and engagedeffortlessly.Icouldescapefromtheperilsandrealities of living in 2021, an Arts student during a global pandemic, and instead distract myself with other people’s emotional and interpersonal dilemmas, and attempts to reconstruct the events of a summer afternoon.

At the heart of The Long, Long Afternoon lies a crime to be solved, and the resolution does prove cathartic. I found myself both relieved and slightly surprised-an ideal result for a crime and mystery novel. Vesper has written a skillful and thoroughly enjoyable debut.

 
Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Three 2021

FARRAGO MAGAZINE EDITIONS FIVE AND SIX AVAILABLE NOW!

Our final editions for the year are jam packed full of news, culture, photography, poetry, art, fiction and more...

Read online