Review: The Tricky Art of Forgiveness by Meredith Jaffe


Title: The Tricky Art of Forgiveness

Author: Meredith Jaffe

Published: March 2022, HarperCollins Australia 

Stats: Read April 2022 courtesy HarperCollins Australia



My Thoughts:


A novel about love, marriage and redemption, The Tricky Art of Forgiveness is the fourth novel from Australian author, Meredith Jaffé.

While her husband, Will, is overseas on business, Diana Forsyth is left to unpack their possessions in their new seaside apartment. It’s a bittersweet task for Diana who has had to say goodbye to the beloved family home in which they raised their children, and nostalgia strikes as their belongings pass through her hands. When she finds a hand written note among her husbands clothes that says, ‘I forgive you’, Diana is stunned, the phrase dredging up a past she thought was settled between them.

Shifting between the past, and the present, the story represents the truism that marriage is a choice that is not made just once, but every day. The highs and lows of Diana and Will’s relationship are laid bare from the heady days of their first meeting, to the difficult moments that have at times divided them. The timing of their latest marital crisis couldn’t be worse given they expect to host family and friends to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and Will’s 60th birthday in a week.

To be honest I came very close to putting The Tricky Art of Forgiveness aside more than once, as I felt there had been so little advancement in terms of story. I hadn’t really warmed to Diana either, and Will had yet to even make an appearance, but I pushed through and I was relieved to find the last third of the novel more satisfying.

On reflection I think Jaffe presents a thoughtful exploration of the changes in a long term relationship, examining the impact of common challenges such as autonomy, parenting, work/lifestyle balance, and ageing, as well as specific issues like infidelity, loss and individual sacrifice. There were some observations that struck me as insightful, and moments I found tender and poignant, I just wasn’t particularly invested until the couple’s secrets were revealed, curious as to how they would resolve the issues between them.

Though not a story that resonated strongly with me, I’ve no doubt The Tricky Art of Forgiveness will find its audience. And I must mention that the bonus Spotify playlist Jaffe links to that reflects her characters musical interest was an unexpected joy.


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Review: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe

Title: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison

Author: Meredith Jaffe

Published: 5th May 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Australia


My Thoughts:


The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a thoughtful and engaging contemporary novel by Meredith Jaffe.

Derek Brown is five years into a seven year sentence for embezzlement when he learns his daughter is getting married. Though he hasn’t seen nor heard from Debbie during his incarceration, despite writing her weekly letters, Derek wants to give her a gift that reminds her how much she is loved. Unable to afford any extravagance, Derek decides to use the skills he has learnt at Backtackers, the weekly sewing group  he attends run by a volunteer, to make his daughter something meaningful, but has to be convinced when the inmates suggest he makes her a wedding dress.

Told with warmth and humour, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a story that explores the themes of, among others, estrangement, addiction, connection and redemption. It centers around Derek, but expands to involve a number of other characters, both from within and outside of the prisons walls, and includes a touch of romance, and a side of politics.

I’m familiar with the book club programs that operate in prisons, but I was surprised to learn sewing groups exist, activities like tapestry and quilting are not pastimes I’d associate with male inmates. Jaffe’s inspiration for the Yarrandarrah Prison sewing group came from the charity organisation, Fine Cell Work, which runs programs in British prisons. Designed to not only teach incarcerated men needlework and sewing skills which could be used to improve employment opportunities on release, the program has also proven valuable in strengthening mental health, building self esteem and promoting positive connections.

Derek arguably stands to gain the most from the completion of the wedding dress, but each of the Backtackers also benefit in both tangible and intangible ways from the project. Jaffe’s inmate characters are a diverse group whom she writes about with empathy, flawed though they may be. She challenges the shallow perceptions of incarcerated criminals by creating well rounded, authentic characters, from the irrepressible young Maloney, to the manipulative lifer, Doc. I found the dynamics of the relationships within the prison, and the BackTackers, to be interesting.

I also appreciated the insight into the modern Australian prison system Jaffe provides. She doesn’t shy away from the realities of the system, and makes some thought-provoking observations about the competing philosophies of incarceration as a means of punishment versus rehabilitation.

With its unusual setting, well crafted plot and interesting characters, I enjoyed reading The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison. To learn more about the book, and its author, please read Reading, Rioting and Libraries, an exclusive guest post by Meredith Jaffe published here at Book’d Out earlier.


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Guest Post: Reading, Rioting and Libraries {The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison} by Meredith Jaffé

I’m delighted to be hosting this special post by Meredith Jaffé today which introduces her thoughtful and entertaining new novel, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison.

You can click here to read my thoughts, but first, read on to learn more…


Reading, Rioting and Libraries

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is about a bloke named Derek Brown who is in prison because he embezzled the takings from the golf club to fund his gambling addiction. His modus operandi is to keep a low profile, it’s safer that way. He looks down his nose at the junkies, thinks he is better than the murderers. His job as an orderly in the prison hospital and his weekly sewing group keep him sane. He has the occasional grumble to his mate Parker about the quality of the food but other than that, Derek is getting through his sentence the best way he knows how.

The catalyst for the story is Derek’s sister-in-law, Sharon. She makes her first ever visit to Yarrandarrah in order to impart important news. Derek’s one and only daughter, the light of his life, is getting married. It’s fair to say this comes as a bit of a shock to him. Last time Derek saw Debbie was at his sentencing hearing with him in the dock and her in the school uniform. Five years ago, she was sixteen, how could she possibly be getting married?

So unfolds the drama of the wedding dress and the harebrained scheme that the men in Derek’s sewing group will make the dress. Egged on by the sewing teacher and cocky young crim called Joey Maloney, the Backtackers, as they are known, embark on a journey of discovery that is about a lot more than just figuring out how to make a wedding dress.

The setting for this novel is the fictitious Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre. There is a whole other direction I could go on here about world building and creating an authentic environment. How I did mountains of research to understand the structured environment and the kinds of issues that arise when men live cheek by jowl. Instead, I want to talk about how, in my internet travels, I followed a trail that led to a particular sub plot that fascinates me on many levels. The prison library.

Derek has an uneasy relationship with a fellow inmate called the Doc who is serving life for murder. Yet somehow, murder is no obstacle to the Doc scoring the cushy job of prisoner librarian. Being the keeper of the books affords a man a certain status because the library is about a lot more than borrowing something to read. It’s where men go to escape the jail talk and violence. It’s a place to research your appeal or spend time lingering over the crossword or the sports pages. The Doc runs a book club and a journal writing course. The guys who attend the literacy program in the education unit next door receive an extra half day’s access to the library each week. They are always asking the Doc to keep a book aside or placing requests for a particular title, especially the guys doing the Open University courses. Then there are those who want to read the same book as their loved ones on the outside so they have something to talk about in their weekly phone call. All in all, the Doc is a popular man.

The local town library is fundamental to the success of the prison library. Each week, it supplies additional books, periodicals and specialist magazines on woodwork, stamp collecting, gardening and model trains. It delivers the newspapers so the men who care to can keep up with the outside world. Together, the town library and the prison library provide a lifeline for men who have too many hours to fill and not enough to do with them. In essence, it provides connection. Unlike the members of the town library though, in prison, reading is a privilege. Take that away and you might end up with a riot on your hands.

The Doc’s overriding belief is that reading sets you free. As prisoner librarian, he has the power to transform lives, to influence and encourage the men he shares C Wing with to find a meaningful way to connect with the outside world and family. Maybe even leave this place a better man than when they entered.

No wonder Derek hates the Doc. Bloody know-it-all strutting around like he owns the joint, forgetting he’s in here for the same reason as the rest of them. Doing time for the crime. Poor Derek, unable to see that whether it be the men in his sewing circle, or the Doc and his precious library, each are seeking the same thing; to find meaning and purpose. To escape the tedium of their existence. To find a way to make amends for past transgressions. To make a connection. And, in a way, that’s no different to anyone else, inside or out.


The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe ($32.99), published by HarperCollins.

Meredith Jaffé is the author of three novels for adults – The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison (May 2021), The Making of Christina (2017) and The Fence (2016.) Horse Warrior, the first in a children’s series, was published in 2019. She also contributed a short story, Emergency Undies, to the 2019 Funny Bones anthology.

She is the Festival Director of StoryFest, held on the NSW South Coast, and regularly facilitates at other writers’ festivals and author events. Previously, she wrote the weekly literary column for online magazine The Hoopla. Her feature articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have also appeared in The Guardian Australia, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia.

Click the image to read my review