Jean Harley Was Here
Finalist for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction
For readers of Everything I Never Told You and When I’m Gone, a profoundly moving, heartwarming debut about family, relationships, and what we leave behind.
Jean Harley—wife, mother, lover, dancer—is a shining light in the lives of those who know and love her, full of boundless energy, compassion, and joy. When she's hit by a truck while riding her bicycle and the unthinkable happens, what becomes of the people she leaves behind? Her devoted husband, Stan, is now a single father to their four-year-old son, Orion, who doesn't understand why his mom won't come home. Jean's two best friends, Neddy and Viv, find their relationship unraveling without their third companion. Charley, the ex-con who caused the accident, struggles to reconcile his feelings of elation when the charges against him are dropped with his boundless guilt over knowing he has changed a family forever; while Jean's mother, Pearl, will regret the little girl who left. Gradually, life without Jean goes on, yet her indelible spirit remains.
Told from the alternating perspectives of these and other characters who grieve the same death in vastly different ways, Jean Harley Was Here is a moving, poetic novel about loss, memory, and the lives we touch.
Taylor Johnson's novel (after Pursuing Love and Death) is a beautiful and moving look at the impact one person can have on others. At the outset, Jean Harley is hit and killed by a truck on her bicycle. Jean was a young, talented, and kind wife to Stan, mother to Orion, friend to Neddy and Viv, and daughter to Pearl and Marion. Set in southern Australia, Jean's story is told through the memories of those who knew her best. These perspectives, including Philip's a former professor of hers she met in college and with whom she had a brief affair before reuniting with Stan and her devoted and lovable dog Digger's, offer a glimpse into a full life. Jean danced in a production staged by Neddy and Viv, and cared for others through homemade soups and weekly wine dates. Beyond the ties of family and friendship, Jean's life and untimely death brings about deep changes reflected in the hearts and minds of those closet to her Marion, her mother-in-law, starts a scholarship in Jean's name; Viv gravitates towards Orion as a connection to Jean, giving him a mother figure to turn to. Taylor Johnson captures the difficulty of death in an accessible way, and treats the subject matter with extraordinary care. This ambitious attempt to fully depict a life so rich with feeling and joy is both sharp and elegantly crafted.
Rather depressing book
This is not a very good book in my opinion. I finished it, but came close several times to closing it out before the end. I’d pass on this one.