... echoes Beckett’s musicality. Thomas tends to the base, cloying, funny, fragile disturbances that make theatre an imperative act. She gives breadth to her characters’ thoughts in tension to the daily performances they play in the role of mother, grandmother, friend, wife, lover, daughter ... She opens up the care it takes for these characters to not leap into easy connection, to allow space for their own and a stranger’s difference. She teases out how ideals and identities fall short of life’s ambiguity. She gently holds the inescapable paradoxes of wanting, needing and enduring in these strange-becoming-stranger times ... a poetics of the political, without preaching or judgement: it triggers burning questions. This is achieved through the novel’s clever structure ... Written with passion, The Performance is a brave book: unafraid of confronting the dissonances of living in a modern Australia.
Australian writer Claire Thomas has just published The Performance, a curious novel about three women watching Happy Days. It begins moments before the lights go down in the theater. Some 228 pages later, members of the audience file out to the parking lot. The end. Thank you for coming. As a plot, that sounds like Beckett squared. The fact that The Performance works at all is noteworthy; that it’s engaging and evocative is something of a miracle ... Although, in one sense, nothing 'happens' in this novel, there’s something uniquely revealing about it ... It feels oddly intimate ... The structure of The Performance forces Thomas to create movement even while her characters are sitting stock still, but she rises to the challenge ... The Performance is an insightful response to Beckett’s 60-year-old classic and a thoughtful reflection on what’s burying women in the modern age.
... both appropriately existential for this cultural moment and far enough behind it to evoke nostalgic recognition ... a clever conceit that lends structure to an otherwise roving, interior narrative ... Sometimes the novel’s digressions drift far from their original association, which might stretch the patience of a reader looking for traditional plot ... Thomas is a fluid writer who stitches these topics together, but the effect is still meandering and stream-of-consciousness ... I found myself wishing for the novel to do more with this raw material, to synthesize these awful facts instead of merely stating them ... But perhaps my desire to make sense of our time — and the novel’s inability to offer sensemaking — is the point. We are all frightened and exhausted. Like Winnie, we are uneasily confined on earth, performing our “attempt at endurance.” In this novel, the project of living is rendered with compassionate clarity. For the duration of The Performance, we can acknowledge the extent of our overwhelming burden, without looking away.
The book is carefully constructed and deliberately meta, with the threads of Beckett’s play woven through every element of the narrative ... Although [Thomas's] writing isn’t as sparse as Beckett’s script, she limits her plot by allowing it to unfold in the silence of a theatre where its characters are, for the most part, unable to move or speak as the action on stage takes place. But far from being stagnant or dull, the result is an intimately rendered dive into the internal lives of Margo, Ivy and Summer, and the common thread of desperation as they each try to find meaning in their situations, and in the bleak knowledge of the raging bushfires ... Like Winnie’s chatty dialogue onstage, the internal monologues that make up the bulk of the chapters are lively and engaging. It is easy for each of the women, with the reader following close behind, to succumb to each train of thought as it arises, and there are moments where they follow it so deeply that the return to the theatre is a shock – even more so when they discover that Winnie’s dialogue seems to echo their innermost anxieties, as if she has read their mind. Is this the function of art – to speak the essential truths of our existence when we are unable to? ... At times the book does threaten to become too clever, the mechanisms and techniques afforded by its experimental structure sitting a little too close to the surface. Ultimately though, the way Thomas plays with the reader is a sort of genius – as Winnie searches for meaning in Happy Days, Thomas uses her performance to allow Margo, Ivy and Summer to search for meaning (and, in doing so, forces the reader to search for meaning as they read). It is contrived, but thrillingly so .. .a love letter to a play whose absurd tragic reflections of reality continue to resonate with a dying planet full of people trying to figure out what they’re meant to mean.
I found Ivy, the middle character, nestled as she is between the more complex Margot and Summer, to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of characterisation. Thomas does a disservice to her by giving her a fairly anodyne role in the book ... Overall, Thomas’ writing is a pleasure to read: spry, confident and coolly intelligent ... Beckett’s play is used as a catalyst for recollection of events in the protagonists’ own lives. However, this device can be a little too heavily relied upon for progressing the narrative ... Of course Thomas is illustrating the truism of art reflecting life but the connective tissue of symbolic incidents between performance and reality does feel a little too easily matched up.
Thomas portrays three generations of women—anxious, resolute, uncertain—who emerge as indelible avatars for the human condition in times of crisis. Their regrets and recriminations, promises of improvement, and plans for atonement all play out within a finely wrought framework. Plumbing themes of intimacy, ambition, grief, and longing with a clarity that is both universal and precise, Thomas’ slim novel offers a rich source for book groups and all contemplative readers.
... incisive ... Though the women only cross paths briefly, during a witty section of the novel that unfolds at intermission, their respective anxieties about climate change, the confines of womanhood, and love and loss intersect magnificently throughout. Meanwhile, as the onstage drama progresses, the play’s protagonist becomes increasingly trapped by the desiccated earth, thus serving as a performative embodiment of the women’s own inexorable journeys through time. This richly rendered and perceptive meditation on motherhood, memory, and the challenges of living through frightful times will hold readers spellbound.