Tag Archives: literary

Innocent desire clashes with the wider world – My review of ‘Deeper Water’ by Jessie Cole

27 Jul

cov_deeperwater (1)‘They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know,’ reads the first line of Jessie Cole’s second novel, ‘Deeper Water’.  Jessie draws us at once into the distinct and unusual world of her protagonist, Mema. Already we can intuit that this is a novel about awakening.

Mema lives with her mother in an isolated valley in northern New South Wales – a place of green hills and flooding creeks. Home schooled and naive for her age, Mema has an almost pagan attachment to her land, to the creek that runs through it and the animals –native, feral and domestic – which it supports.

Men are always passing through Mema’s world, only the women stay. Her four brothers and various fathers are long since gone, swallowed up by the wider world. But when she rescues a stranger whose car has been washed off a bridge, just like that everything changes. Even though the stranger, Hamish, is the most ‘passing through’ of men he captures Mema’s interest. A tentative longing builds for Hamish and what he represents – the outside world.

Despite the beauty of Mema’s creek-side home, it is no rural idyll. Their local town has an ugly side and the ‘knowns and the unknowns’ in Mema’s past form a darker undercurrent to the story. Mema’s relationship with Anja, a wild girl who grew up sleeping in a tree hollow, also adds tension. Threatened by the addition of Hamish to their tight friendship, Anja creates ripples that spread in unpredictable directions.

Like Jessie’s first book, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, this novel is distinctive for its careful observations that bring us into Mema’s world. Mema listens to the chickens’ ‘morning clucks’ and imagines her siblings’ fathers ‘washed up like survivors of a shipwreck, lost and beaten by the waves.’

The writing is candid about the pain of first love and longing. But this is not only a story about sexual awakening; ‘Deeper Water’ also explores environmental themes with a light-handed touch. Hamish, an environmental consultant, clashes with Mema over his views on cats and cane toads. Gender relationships are also questioned – when seeing Anja, Hamish comments on her beauty. But Anja is many things, Mema thinks, and beautiful is only one of them.

‘Deeper Water’ is a sensuous portrayal of what happens when innocent desire clashes with the hardened edges of the wider world. Mema will linger in your mind for some time after you close the pages.

 

‘Deeper Water’ will be launched at the Byron Bay Writers Festival this Friday. Read more about Jessie here. 

This is my third post for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
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Book Review: ‘A Common Loss’ by Kirsten Tranter A Common Loss By: Kirsten Tranter

2 Mar

A Common Loss is Australian author, Kirsten Tranter’s second novel. Her first, The Legacy, was an assured, fresh retelling of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

A Common Loss tells the story of five friends who meet at university and keep in touch over the next ten years. Following the death of one of their number, Dylan, the friends re-group for their annual visit to Las Vegas.

The story starts with the narrator, Elliot, remembering a car accident the five had together. The driver, Cameron, swerves to avoid a deer and they crash. Cameron has been drinking, so Dylan claims to be the driver. As the years go by, whenever Elliot remembers the crash, it is Dylan who he sees at the wheel. This trick of the memory becomes a motif for the story.

Elliot, a professor of literature, sees himself as a bit of an outsider in the group. With Dylan, who Elliot idealised, removed, tensions rise and relationships buckle under strain. Elliot discovers that not all of his friends viewed Dylan the same way he did. Dylan’s death sets events in train where each friend is forced to reveal long-hidden secrets.

The first part of the book seems a little slow, as Elliott comes to terms with Dylan’s death. Passages of introspection set the scene; ‘I felt strangely paralysed in that way that you feel in dreams sometimes, wanting to move and yet unable to take a step. Was this another symptom of grief, I wondered, catalogued and tagged somewhere?’

However, once the friends gather in Vegas it gets on quite a roll.  I enjoyed the observations on Vegas – how it all seemed like a stage set, changing rapidly from glitter and glitz to ‘desperation and emptiness’. ‘Backstage should be hidden with a curtain or a door from the audience, surely; it shouldn’t be so – well, just so easy to see all the crap and falling-apart stuff out the back,’ Elliot observes.

Essentially a psychological suspense novel, the narrative drive comes from waiting to see how the friendships will react to pressure. Tranter’s writing is clever and insightful. She digs deep into the undercurrents of friendship, guilt and shame. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. 

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