It’s hard to find much trace of Virginia Smith’s The Carradine Diary online. It was her second novel, published in 2004 by Diva Books in London soon after her death in a car crash. Trove lists just one copy in Australian libraries, in the St Kilda Public Library. I picked up a secondhand copy spending a gift voucher at Elizabeth’s Books. I bought it guessing from its blurb that it was a good example of the biographical quest genre I’m researching.
Indeed, The Carradine Diary is a ‘textbook’ example. The British narrator, Abby, travels to Canada to illustrate the biography of a famed (and fictional) early twentieth century children’s novelist, Lucy Pritchard, creator of the children’s character, Hector Price. The biographer is Mo, an old friend of Gayle, Abby’s partner. Abby sets off on a car trip to the places Lucy lived so she can draw key landmarks for the book. She finds herself attracted to a tourguide named Elise at the old schoolhouse where Lucy taught for a year; a year in which, supposedly, very little happened in Lucy’s life. When Abby’s car breaks down, Elise asks her to stay with her, in the same house where Lucy boarded a century earlier. Elise’s family is in conflict over a diary written by Lucy and only recently discovered. Elise’s mother attempts to stop Abby reading the diary, but Abby manages to read it in stages at the same time as struggling to make up her mind about what to do about her intense attraction to Elise. Her own forbidden love echoes the passionate affair Lucy writes about a century earlier with one of Elise’s ancestors.
There are further twists – probably too many of them – and far too much vacillation in the final chapters, as Abby keeps changing her mind over her dilemmas. I suspect this would have been smoothed out had Smith lived. She writes well, and it is an interesting novel.
“Virginia Smith” was her married name; but we read in the editor’s introduction that Virginia had left her husband a few years earlier and was in a committed relationship with a woman. A posthumous collection of poems was published under her maiden name “Virginia Warbey”. It was a sad and fascinating piece of web-bioquesting for me to come across this anonymous comment under a review for the poetry collection:
Its very interesting how people assume so much.
Virginia wasnt planning a new poetry collection at all – she felt she had gone beyond poetry and had moved on to other things….
She had also left the writers group because she felt she didnt really get out of it what she should have gotten out of it.
Her new novel, that remains unfinished, by her own admission, was her best work by far.
And, in all honesty and hindsight, Virginia is probably cringing at Ratified.
It seems her legacy is contested by someone who knew her very well. If this was a bioquest novel, a committed biographer would unearth the truth about her life, echoing a crisis in the biographer’s own life. But this is as far as I, at least, will get.
An annual poetry competition is run in her name.