Lillian’s Story vs Lillian’s Story


Kate Grenville wrote Lillian’s Story in 1985, based loosely on an eccentric woman who roamed the streets of Sydney. It tells the story of Lillian through three key stages of her life; as a child growing up with an abusive father, a reclusive mother and a brother always trying to hide; as a young woman struggling through the social niceties of a polite society within which she does not belong and finding her way through university whilst still dealing with her family; and as an elderly woman trying to find meaning to her life after forty years in an asylum. Lillian eventually finds happiness living on the street with a friend from her youth, entertaining and shocking people with her recitations from Shakespeare.

It was a very hard book to read. Told from the perspective of Lillian, it seems that she takes pride in being different and not fitting in, but the hurt of the rejection and abuse that she suffers cuts as deep as if it were happening to me. I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but it has stayed with me, and I will make sure I read the other two books based around characters from Lillian’s Story.


The film was made in 1996 and has a wonderful Australian cast; Ruth Cracknell plays the older Lillian, whilst Toni Collette plays her in her late teens/early twenties; Barry Otto plays her father and the older version of her brother; and John Flaus plays Frank. I wonder how anyone who has not read the book would see the film. It is always difficult to take a whole novel and squeeze it into ninety minutes or so, especially a film such as this with so many, varied scenes.

The film starts as Lil is being released from the asylum and discovering what has happened in the world. As she finds her place, she has flashbacks to key events of the past. Having read the books recently, I really noticed what was missing more than what was included; there was none of her early days, almost nothing of her mother, one of the loves of her life wasn’t there and many of the relationships were not explained. On top of this, a feature of the book is that Lil is fat – she deliberately makes herself fat as a child and never loses the weight, and it is commented on by many around her. But this is nowhere in the film.

I feel that it is a good film, but not for people who have actually read the book. However, it is not a film that very many people who have not read the book would ever watch. What a dilemma. If you have the option, I’d say read it.