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My best read of 2016 – Chris Ringrose

Willy Lit Fest Committee Member, Prof Chris Ringrose reviews his best read of 2016 so far – Shifting by Helen and Serge Cerne, Vulgar Press, Melbourne 2015.

‘This beautifully-written dual autobiography had me hooked from page one, where Helen describes her state of mind after the death of her husband Serge in 2014: “Fossicking for love after loss, like a miner panning for gold, I walk around the empty house which is now deserted, draughty, unvisited even by ghosts”. Lest this seem like the prelude to a melancholy text, let me quickly say that Shifting, written in alternate chapters by Helen and Serge in the years before his passing, is wonderfully affirmative, funny and touching.

The concept is simple, but the treatment of it is rich and innovative: the narrative switches back and forth between Sergio, post-war Italian immigrant to Australia finding his way in Victoria as a child and teenager, and Helen, policeman’s daughter from Mildura, Bendigo and then Footscray, as they live through the same era and experience the ‘shifts’ in Australia from their own vibrant perspectives.

Serge writes in third-person past tense, Helen in first-person present tense. One understands throughout that in the final chapters they will meet, fall in love and marry. Their stories will fuse into a new series of chapters beyond the pages of the book.

Australian social history of the 40s through to the 60s, and the experience of migration in those days, has seldom been so vividly evoked, with humour, drama and poetic detail. But in the end I treasured the book as a collaboration between two artistic souls, a reflection on destiny and chance, and a great love story.’

helen cerne








Cover image “Driving Home” – painting by Serge Cerne