Full disclosure time:
*I was engaged and paid to edit this book (although that means I’ve read it five times so I feel very qualified to review it).
*JJ and my father worked together and played football together during their twenties (about forty years ago and before I was born so JJ and I have never physically met).
*This is the first autobiography/memoir I’ve read in a long time so I have nothing to compare it to. I guess I’ll just have to review it on its own merits.
Told in linear chronology, Paula and Me is the story of John Jeffery’s life. It starts out ordinarily enough, a little boy growing up on the fringes of a big city’s suburbs, riding bikes, kicking a football, spending as much time with his friends as possible, bored by school and dreaming of some kind of adventure. It’s terribly evocative of the innocence of the 1950s and 1960s, of times that now seem alien to us. But it’s also obvious that it is simply building up to something else because, as JJ admits in the introduction, “the story of my life is – for the most part – the story of my life with Paula.”
As soon as they meet, it is clear that they are meant to be together. They try to be apart but it doesn’t work. And so begins a series of adventures that almost every Australian dreams of – the adventure of raising a family, the adventure of working overseas (Papua New Guinea), the adventure of returning home and realising it isn’t home anymore, the adventure of working and travelling in some of the harshest and most remote places in the outback with more red dirt and blue skies than anyone has ever imagined possible. And then one day, it all comes crashing down.
Cancer. Motor neurone disease (MND, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Lyme disease. Any one on its own would be more than most people could handle. And yet it all had to be handled. There was no other choice.
I’m on record as decrying the number of “ordinary” people who feel it necessary to write their memoirs and who use their “sob story” as a marketing tool. But after reading this book, I’m ashamed I ever articulated such a view. Because there is no such thing as ordinary. And being president of a country or founder of a religion or winner of a Nobel prize doesn’t make your story any more worthy of being told.
JJ’s distinctive voice and writing style comes across strongly throughout the book, confirming his self-described status as an Australian larrikin. He’s never self-indulgent though, not even when Paula falls ill, although I think we can all agree that if ever there was a time for it, that would be it.
This book is three parts adventure, one part heartache and all heart. It gave me such an insight into the strength of love, of how much can be accomplished when passion and hard work are the building blocks for a life but also how important it is when the unexpected changes your life forever. I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet Paula but seeing her beautiful smiling face and reading her story, told by the man who loved her, it is clear that she was worth knowing. And by reading this book, everyone can carry a piece of her in their hearts forever.
*First published on Goodreads 12 December 2016