Saving Francesca (by Melina Marchetta)

5 02 2012

There is something different about Melina Marchetta. There’s this strange melancholic and slightly alienating vibe to the words on her pages that make of every Marchetta experience something special. That something is acutely present in her second novel, Saving Francesca,  which was awarded Book of the Year and Book of the Year for Older Readers in her native Australia in 2004.

Saving Francesca combines the sense of alienation and the lack of belonging that Francesca Spinelli – a 16-year-old Year Eleven girl – experiences at school and at home.  On the advice and urgent request of her overbearing mother, Francesca has to attend St Sebastian, a previously all boys school, which now counts only about 30 girls.  Francesca feels bitter and uneasy about all this: “Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it’s either like living in a fish bowl or like you don’t exist. Then, on top of that, you have to make a whole new group of friends after being in a comfortable little niche for four years. At Stella’s, you turned up to school, knew exactly what your group’s role and profile was, and the day was a blend of all you found comfortable. My mother calls that complacency but whatever it’s called, I miss it like hell.” At the same time, her mother Mia, who used to be the rock of the family, suffers from a breakdown, and this causes everything Francesca has ever known to fall apart.

Being at St Sebastian’s – an outsider looking in all of a sudden – also makes Francesca reconsider the idea she had about her previous friends at Stella (her old school) and the new bunch of girls at St Sebastian. It also makes her challenge herself in ways she would never have done if she’d stayed at Stella’s and if her mom hadn’t been depressed. Some good may come of the bad after all…

Marchetta’s Saving Francesca is definitely a prime example of coming-of-age, but has that slight edge too.  Yes, it’s about the universal themes of young adulthood: friendship, love, family issues and figuring out who’s Slutty Spice and who’s Bitchy Spice. But it’s especially Melina Marchetta’s captivating prose and Francesca’s poignant voice, which raises this novel above middle-of-the-road. Despite the fact that it’s so obvious that Marchetta is distinctly non-American in her language, depiction of character and setting, and has a truly unique voice (I haven’t read enough Australian novelist, to decide whether it’s an Austrialian thing or a Marchetta thing), her prose has a universality and foreverness that lingers…



One response

13 10 2012
The Piper’s Son (by Melina Marchetta) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] Piper’s Son, published in 2010, is a sort of companion/follow up novel to Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca (2003). It features characters which also appeared in Saving Francesca and even though it’s not […]

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