I picked this up in the library, based on not an awful lot more than the cover (which I would love to show you but I can’t make Amazon do iframes on this blog… I’m calling for IT support!) and on the basis of it having a “Short listed for the Orange Prize” sticker on the spine. These are two commendable reasons for real books and libraries any way. Since it had the prettiest cover, I read it first out of my pile of ‘real books for this month’ and I think it is probably a good job I did, since it rates pretty high on the BabyLostMothers index 😥
The story in a nutshell is of pre WW2 Australia and of trying to carve out a farmers existence in the bush and the wide open spaces. That is the backdrop to the story; what it is really about is the inadequacies of relationships that are not built on anything real, the inevitability of lack of communication and the truths of people who are obsessive – small people trying to work miracles and how alone and lonely that is.
The main character is female and she tells the story with a reservation and quietness that reminded me of some other book – I’m not sure which. I think it is true this book reminded me of A Town Like Alice but I couldn’t say if it were setting or tone or time period that made that happen. Some of each perhaps. It tells the story of her marriage to a man obsessed with the science of chemicals and of farming by numbers not feel and of what happens to their community when he helps the farmers around him to apply his mantras to their lives.
The whole book is infused with a melancholy that is more infectious than was good for me; there is a hopeless determination about Robert and a quiet, passive, reflective air about his wife, Jean. It is a gentle book but that belies a real brutalness to the subject matter. It more than adequately gives a snapshot of a time and place that takes no prisoners. It is less a story than a chance to take a deep breath and sniff the flavour of a moment and a place in time.
From my point of view it touched more than a few nerves; I live in a house where we are divided into head and heart with little compromise – or at least only a learned compromise – and this story was an illustration to me of where we might have gone without the learning. It is about one person who will reduce everything to numbers and another who will try to accommodate that perhaps beyond the point where speaking might have been sensible. By the time she does speak everything about them is, quite literally, dust. The sense of hopelessness is hard to shake off.
I’d give this a 7/10. I liked it, but it made me sad; I’d recommend it but I wouldn’t go back to it. I ‘would’ go back to the author though and I loved that it really had some innovative touches, not least a series of photographs through the novel that I can well believe were the inspiration for the book.
For the BabyLost – you’d be needing to be strong, I’d say. Lots of babies, birth, stillbirth and dying babies. Not for the faint hearted.