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A new printing by Hardie Grant Books in September 2015

I am told I shouldn't want heroes, but I want them. I want life to be bigger than it is. Obey the rules, the Marxist sisters seem to say, and life will be bigger for everyone. But artists, like lovers, are mad people, and painting, like love, is inextricable from madness.

Cover image for the new printing of Mad Meg

In the world of Mad Meg, life is consumed by art. The present is unalterably coloured by the silences, loyalties and betrayals of the past. Isobel tries to unravel the secrets of her parents: her kind but crazy mother, Stella; and her rogue but dearly loved father, Henri. Her campaigning sister, Allegra, struggles with the realities of the passing of time as she is drawn into a maelstrom of protestation and parenthood. Sally Morrison's classic, award-winning novel draws the reader through a tangle of intersecting lives set against a tapestry of twentieth-century European politics. Mad Meg explores the gaps between choices and compulsions; artists and phonies; and kinship and friendship.

Excerpt from a review of the 1994 printing

"Brandishing her sword and with her basket overflowing with idiosyncratic possessions, Breughel's Mad Meg hurtles through a chaotic landscape of nightmarish forms. Sally Morrison sees her as uttering the 'silent bellow' of the individual within the 'mindless melee' of society.

Meg becomes an appropriate symbol and focal point for Morrison's witty and absorbing novel. It is concerned with history, the individual, conflicting ideologies, fantasy and art. The narrative particularly emphasises the evolution of Australian society, in both urban and rural settings, this century, and its relationship with events and cultural movements in Europe.

All this sounds rather ambitious, but Morrison succeeds admirably, concentrating her imagination on the lives of a number of families connected by kinship, friendship or hostility. Her special focus is the family of Stella Motte and Henry Coretti as seen through the eyes of their younger daughter Isobel.

Isobel gradually exposes the lives of her father, an Italian artist, and of his kindly but limited Australian wife. The charming, wayward Henry early deserts his family, but Stella romanticises his memory while also coming to regard him as a failure 'who did his best'.

Both Isobel and her fated sister Allegra never quite had a normal childhood, and their life trials are many. Yet these trials, in love, business and career, are related by Isobel with both humour and insight. Though serious issues are raised, whether about the evils of Fascism or of violence against women, Isobel's funny/sad voice remains totally sane as well as enticing for the reader.

In her telling of personal, family and national histories Isobel highlights the need for people to value and protect their freedom. All of us, as her Italian grandmother says, have a 'moral duty to the future…each person's actions matter, and that is the only constant in history.'

Isobel has a gift for compassion - both for her increasingly eccentric mother and oppressed sister and for a motley circle of others. In the most unlikely people she sees a striving for the good, a recognition of the 'need for grace in life'. An artist like her father, she paints a crowd of 'bottom-heavy people, with tiny, ineffectual wings' whose faces are turned yearningly towards the heavens. Morrison's awareness of the compulsions that drive people - their ideology, the desire for fame or beautiful things, for self-expression or aggrandisement - is enthrallingly evident in this wise and balanced novel. It almost makes one believe with Matthew Arnold that literature and morality are inseparable." (Veronica Sen, The Canberra Times, Saturday May 28th, 1994)

For a perspective on Mad Meg among other novels of the time:
Women Writing: Views and Prospects 1975-1995: Keynote Address - Different Views, Longer Prospects - Bronwyn Levy

The ABC radio program Books and Writing, hosted by Robert Dessaix, discussed Mad Meg in May 1994. Although this episode is not available online, you may download a recording here. The program included discussion by literary critic Helen Daniel and journalist and critic Tina Muncaster.