Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

I love Magda Szubanski. I’ve loved her since I was a kid. She’s a true comic. Her humour is borne out of acerbic intelligence and astute observation. She can pull a fully formed character out of the collective unconscious and breathe them into being.

Reckoning is expansive and it covers all of her life from early childhood to today. Instead of being delivered through a ‘story of my success’ type framework, Magda is ensconced in her heritage and history.

There are two sections with colour photographs. The first section is of family ancestors in Poland and Scotland. The second shows more recent images, many recognisable to most people. We can see how much she has achieved and accomplished throughout her life—from the D Generation to the Dalai Lama with Kath and Kim and Steve Irwin in between.

But these celeb-filled headline slices of the story are almost incidental aspects of her life—a life that has had much pain and struggle. There is no gloating or syrup. There are therapy sessions, and a belief that trauma may be genetically carried from one generation to the next through nightmares and imagery. The backdrop of Reckoning is war, courage and cowardice, and trauma.

We start with a grand description of the hilarious Scottish women in Magda’s mother’s side, then we move to the harrowing Polish side and a father who is like a walnut she spends her life trying to crack. Did he collude with the Nazis? Why does he dismiss socialist ideology? Why does he insist she find her killer instinct on the tennis court?

Much of the book also is concerned with sexuality. Or coming to terms with an ‘aberrant’ sexuality. There is much insight in her words. She writes about how all the many aspersions that her loving parents cast on gay and lesbian people, had unknowingly “formed a pointillist impression”. I can say that matches my experiences entirely.    

She describes the fear of being outed publicly and that the first step is coming out to oneself, which can be the hardest step.

Ultimately this book is a love letter to her parents, replete with the idiosyncratic yawning screech of their Jason recliners.

The language in Reckoning is fluid and very easy to read. I had difficulty putting this down. It’s not ‘a laugh a second’ but you can tell that from the cover. This is a serious and thoughtful book. Magda Szubanski is a fine writer.