Being Jade is a beautifully written, occasionally erotic and occasionally dark tale of a woman who lives by her own rules and challenging notions of what it means to love and what it truly means to be loyal to another person. Australian author Kate Belle (who wrote the brilliant novel, The Yearning,) creates an interesting portrait of a marriage through her characters Banjo and Jade. When the novel opens, we meet Banjo as a ghost. He is recently deceased, killed in an accident shortly after walking out on his wife of more than twenty years. As Banjo tells us his side of the tale, we learn that the pair met when they were in their early teens. He has always been the stable one, from a good, charitable family. Jade was the ratty one, the daughter of an unnamed prostitute. Jade blossoms a little under the gentle guidance of Banjo's family, but we soon discover that her eventual marriage to Banjo will not be a traditional one. As Jade explains when questioned about one of her affairs, 'Banjo, I love you but you have to understand, my body is mine. You can't own and control me.' (p.60).
Banjo reluctantly accepts Jade's infidelities. As the novel progresses, moving back and forward between the past and the present--sometimes with a first person narrative from Banjo and sometimes with a third person narrative from the perspective of their younger daughter Lissy, we learn more of Jade and her affairs and the impact that it has on the entire family. It is something Banjo reluctantly accepts, something that sickens their older daughter Cassy and something which younger daughter Lissy tries hard to understand. The second half of the book, where Jade is inconsolable through her grief at losing Banjo, slowly shows us Jade's side of the story via Jade's artwork and Lissy's meetings with the men that her mother had relationships with. The identity of the final man, the one Jade dared to bring home, along with an unseen piece of artwork, are stunning but beautiful revelations.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and the glimpse it gave us of a unique woman and her family. The writing flows well and the scenes shift easily back and fourth between past and present. The author does a brilliant job of subtly challenging traditional notions of family and fidelity, as well as showing that sometimes there can be more than one side of the story. Brilliant and highly recommended.
Finally, a big thank you to Simon and Schuster for my review copy.