Marriages of the Magdalene
Review by Peter McRae
Biochemist and Spiritual Seeker
In this enjoyable and well-crafted novel, the central characters are John the Beloved and Mary Magdalene. Helen re-imagines their stories, the individual spiritual journeys undertaken by each of them interwoven with their deep connection with each other.
The novel is set at the time of Christianity’s beginnings and many of the characters and recorded stories from the Bible are skilfully woven into a fascinating fictional narrative that is both stimulating and easy to read.
We read of John and Mary’s awakening to a mystical Christianity and their great inner need to spread this into the world. The novel brought to life for me the significance of Mary Magdalene as a close companion of the Christ and her burning desire to take his message of love far and wide.
Helen takes the reader on their journey as John and Mary make real for themselves the deeper teachings – of a living Christ within and the Cosmic Christ. Through her skilful and imaginative storytelling, we hear how love becomes a catalyst for their personal growth and transformation. Both Mary and John are determined to follow their teacher and become teachers themselves, and we learn of the profound meaning of the agape meal of bread and wine for the emerging community around them.
From a practical point of view, Helen includes a very useful map of the towns and areas referred to in the text so that the reader is more easily able to follow the journeys described in the novel. In addition, a list of the cast of Characters in the book is included along with their relationships with each other. This provides a quick useful reference guide as to who is who in the unfolding story.
I loved this book. Helen is a great story teller and the book is written with great feeling and tenderness. It is a compelling read and hard to put down once started. I absolutely recommend it.
Review by Stephen Cugley
Spiritual Scientist and Biblical Scholar
Marriages of the Magdalene is a meditative re-imagining of the beginnings of Christianity viewed through the eyes of Christ’s closest disciples – John the Beloved and Mary Magdalene. Through the genre of a historical novel, Helen reveals the Gospel of St John as an initiation document that traces the inner paths of their development, a path that will resonate with readers today.
Imaginative fiction comes to life through Helen’s own spirituality and immersion in the currents of life in first-century Palestine. All in all, a provocative and informed work, as well as a good read with well-drawn characters.
Review by Ken Killeen
Artist and Steiner Art Teacher
Prodigal Daughters is a rare gem of a book, beautifully written, insightful, poetic, a work of art. Helen Martineau dares to do what very few contemporary art commentators do; she connects the arts back to the original cause, the profound and divine spiritual source, the ‘Hippocrene Spring’. The idea of the spiritual significance and primary spiritual impulse of the arts is as old as art itself. But Helen not only gives us a timely reminder of the truth of the fact that ‘the arts create a bridge between two worlds’, she also brings new insight about the nature of spirit and the redemptive power and purpose of the arts. We are given keys to unlocking some of the otherwise hidden mysteries of the arts in all their ‘glorious diversity’.
Yet Prodigal Daughters is not offered as the definitive last word on the arts. Helen invites and encourages us to take her insights as a starting point for our own deepened experience, involvement and understanding of the visual, performing and literary arts.
‘We live in a material world and I am a material girl’, sang the ironically named pop diva Madonna. Never a truer word was spoken, and maybe not in jest. Prodigal Daughters gives us a timely reminder that the true value of art is not monetary, but spiritual in its potential to connect us to each other and the numinous, and inspire, uplift and expand our consciousness. Helen offers us her vision of the arts as an antidote, a corrective force to the problems we face. Creativity is described and explained as essential human activity that helps us understand ourselves and the world.
She tells us that although we live in apocalyptic times, let us be aware that the Greek word apokalypsis also means unveiling or revelation. The arts have much to reveal. A genuine artwork opens our eyes and ears, minds and hearts. ‘Dawkinism’ may be widespread, but so too is the need to know why, the search for meaning, the search for goodness, beauty and truth, the search for spiritual nourishment. The phenomenal rise of Aboriginal art on the world stage is due not only to the extraordinary beauty of the artwork—an aesthetic that connects the ancient with the modern, but also because the collectors are hungry for something authentically spiritual, something powerful, transcendent and connective.
As an artist, Prodigal Daughters encourages me to understand and appreciate the vocation of art making, and makes me want to keep striving to do better art. As an art lover, this book stimulates me to seek out and immerse myself in the rich legacy of human creative endeavour. There is so much more for me to read, listen to and see, to marvel at with all my senses and so enrich my soul and spirit. As an art teacher, Helen’s book provides a unique and invaluable complement to the shelves of far more prosaic books on art. It will give students new insights into art history and unlock new ways of understanding, appreciating and analysing art. I recommend this book most highly to anyone interested in the arts and the human spirit inherent in creating and making, looking and listening.
Helen writes that ‘the ability to create is the essence of our humanity’, and ‘the specific task of the arts has always been to depict spirit in the world and tell its story.’ Prodigal Daughters is a revelation for our apocalyptic times.
On The Inside - An Intimate Portrait of Sheila Florance
Review by Brian Jeffrey
June 11 2005
Enigmatic, indomitable Sheila
Many mourners at Sheila Florance’s funeral were surprised to see a beautiful blonde smiling at them from the program. They found it difficult to reconcile the youthful image with that of the incredibly lined face they knew from Florance’s portrayal of the character Lizzie Birdsworth in the popular soap Prisoner. A few intimates exchanged whispers about how she’d joked that, with the good figure she’d kept to the end, she used to attract wolf whistles from behind. And how she’d act out with great relish the embarrassment of the sheepish men when she turned around and they caught a look at the front. As in her life, there was a lot of laughter and warmth at Florance’s farewell. And, having designed the proceedings, she knew how to wring the most from the moment. Helen Martineau is Florance’s daughter-in-law. She knew the private side of her life and writes, ‘I wanted to pay tribute to this courageous and indomitable woman, a survivor who committed herself to living every aspect of her life to the hilt.’ In this respect, she has done an admirable job, given that she has had to blend Florance’s own versions of events based on correspondence and half-finished ‘memoirs’; interpretations of how things might have happened ‘when all she left were intriguing hints’; and re-creations of experiences which, in some cases, were too painful for Florance ever to speak about.
She has drawn on press clippings, reviews, and interviews with colleagues, friends and family, imbuing the whole with fondness, frankness and a careful avoidance of the maudlin. Nonetheless, there remain intriguing gaps and inconsistencies in Florance’s story, which only serve to make her an even more fascinating subject. The Sheila Florance of this biography is a mass of contradictions: an empathetic, supportive friend who could be ruthlessly dismissive of people to whom she took a dislike, perhaps over something as trivial as their star sign. She was devoted to her children, but unwittingly orchestrated tragedy by insisting that they fit in with her rigid expectations and eccentric lifestyle. Martineau recalls the endless open house Florance and her husband, John Balawaider, kept at their humble St Kilda Junction dwelling in Melbourne. Visitors included the likes of Frank Thring, Clifton Pugh, John Gorton, Noel Ferrier, Zoe Caldwell and Barry Humphries. The neighbours could only tolerate the comings and goings, especially when any police who followed up complaints too often accepted Florance’s persuasive invitations to join the revelry.
Despite Martineau’s painstaking research and imaginative reconstructions, there are periods where Florance’s own accounts of her activities and experiences cannot be substantiated. In drawing partly on Florance’s own account, Martineau warns of her ‘ability to imbue her life with wonderment, in part because through her people could connect with a bigger history, stories of love, life and death on a dramatic scale’. The role of the devious and cunning Lizzie in Prisoner was undoubtedly her big break, but she had numerous roles in theatre, television and film, and accounts of such work are woven into her story. Most of her acting, including in Prisoner, paid very little, and she took cleaning jobs and other menial work to help pay the household bills. At the end of her life, she summed it up as ‘a bit of a contradiction’.
This is a most readable book, skilfully researched, well written and balanced. Readers who fondly recall Sheila Florance’s life and times will savour it.