Whether you know Magda from her skits during the Fast Forward days (remember Lynne? “I said pet, I said love, I said pet”), or my personal favourite, Sharon Strzelecki from Kath and Kim, you will probably agree she’s become engrained as part of our collective Aussie comedy family.
Reckoning is Magda Szubanski’s multi award-winning memoir, weaving tales of her a Polish-Scot background, unusual childhood, her rise to fame and her extraordinary family. A large portion of the book pays homage to her father: a small, competitive, charismatic man who was once a deadly assassin.
Magda proves herself to be an exceptional writer as she captures the complexities of her father, Zbigniew Szubanski, with remarkable depth and clarity. Rather than “good” or “bad”, you see him as someone completely loveable, broken, and doing the best he can.
Zbigniew would shrug off his past as though it was nothing at all, seeming to numb himself from experiences he couldn’t quite deal with. He was 15 years old when he became a part of the Polish Resistance, killing Nazis and Nazi collaborators and watching families get shot in the streets. He had no choice but to develop a tough exterior and grew up very quickly.
Given his harsh life experiences, he expected far too much from his children – fiercely competing with them so he could prove to himself he was better than them at everything, and a simple game of tennis would quickly become an extreme sport.
When Magda was a blossoming pre-teen, Zbigniew even flippantly suggested Magda should just starve herself in order to rectify her slight but noticeable weight gain (and alas a cycle of bingeing and deprivation began). He didn’t intend to be cruel – a man of extraordinary willpower, that’s simply how he would have handled the same situation.
Magda’s mother Margaret was also interesting, with Magda labelling her the “true comedian” of the family. Yet throughout the book you see bouts of loneliness as she struggles with her life, stuck behind the four walls of the family home.
Although many will enjoy the entire book, I did lose interest when it came to Magda’s rise to fame. The stories surrounding her Fast Forward days, the people she met and the glass ceilings she shattered, were all very interesting – but I found myself wanting to know more about her fascinating childhood, and strangely endearing father.
That said, I did read a review which stated, “You may be holding out for more on Magda’s brilliant career than you get…”, so I suppose it’s just a matter of personal taste.
Reckoning is a beautiful, harrowing story written by a remarkable woman who will not fail to impress you with her writing prowess, intelligence and uninhibited authenticity.
An amazing read!