Book Review: Lola Bensky, Lily Brett

| 18 January , 2013 | 1 Reply

Lola Bensky is young and fat. She interviews Jimi Hendrix, Cher and Mama Cass for a living. She’s in London and Los Angeles, in the hurricane of the music industry in the late 60s. Later in life she will be plagued by anxieties and crippling confidence issues. Both of her parents are Holocaust survivors and there is nothing in her life that effects Lola so much as that single fact.

Lola Bensky is a novel inspired by author Lily Brett’s life as a young rock journalist for an Australian music magazine. The novel opens with Lola interviewing a relatively unknown Jimi Hendrix and finding it hard to concentrate because her fishnet tights are so uncomfortable.

Lola’s life as a rock journalist is a blur of interviewing legends and meeting larger than life personalities, but interspersed between tape recorders and underground venues, we start to learn about Lola’s home life in Australia. Not only did she grow up with parents traumatised by their experiences in the war, she grows up with death. Her parents almost died, every relative she would have had has died and she is aware from a young age of the horrors of death camps. Needless to say, it was not a psychologically healthy upbringing.

The novel skips over decades of Lola’s life as she moves on from being a rock-journalist to a mother and successful novelist. Lola Bensky glides over Lola’s life story, picking out incidents and turning points, delving into her emotions and reactions to the unpredictable mess that life throws at us. It is a very personal and probing portrait of a woman who is full of foibles and could be anyone you know.

The musical moments in Lola’s life are based on Lily Brett’s own experiences of meeting the artists, so you find yourself believing every word. That Mick Jagger is a tidy and organised man, Janis Joplin was understanding and open and Jimi Hendrix was a gentleman. Brett’s portraits of people are vivid and evocative. Lola’s mother Renia is an complicated woman whose influence on Lola is so profound that decades after her death, Lola still find herself buying postcards to send to Renia and measuring herself against her mother’s twisted standards.

This is a novel that looks at the profound effect our parents have on our lives, consciously and unconsciously. The treads that bind Lola’s stories are her insecurities and anxieties. That both of her parents were Auschwitz survivors is the key to understanding Lola and how her life is made incredibly complicated by the burden that tragedy placed on her parents and so on her. The guilt of the survivor plagues both Lola’s father and mother, who are in turn unable to function properly as ‘parents’. Her mother is trapped by the dead, always remembering the lives that were lost and the life she should have had. Lola’s excess weight is something to loathe, because for many years the only fat people were the Commandants of the death camps.

To grow up as the child of Holocaust survivors is an experience to which almost no one can relate. Perhaps children of other ‘survivors’, but there would be few with the weight the Holocaust carries in the public consciousness. In Lola Bensky, Brett delves into what it is like to be one of these rare people and explains to the rest of us what we can never truly understand.

Lily Brett is one of Australia’s foremost writers and Lola Bensky is great read. It is an insightful and revealing look into one woman’s psychology and what makes us who we are.

Available now: Penguin RRP$29.99


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  1. Book review: Lola Bensky by Lily Brett | sunshine and gin | 6 March , 2014

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