The ten­der ache for days long forgotten

Liam Dav­i­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

WHEN the man­u­script of Kate ColeA­dams’s de­but novel was short- listed for the emerg­ing writ­ers prize in the 2006 Vic­to­rian Pre­mier’s Lit­er­ary Awards, the judges de­scribed it as an in­tel­li­gently struc­tured novel that ex­plored a char­ac­ter’s strug­gle with her un­cer­tain and elu­sive mem­o­ries.

The dif­fi­culty of re­duc­ing this novel to a syn­op­sis is twofold. It un­fairly priv­i­leges plot, which is not what you read this at­mo­spheric and deeply felt novel for, and the un­cer­tainty and elu­sive­ness be­ing ex­plored works against the prin­ci­ple of nail­ing it in 10 words or less. A wo­man sleeps, wakes and walks’’ cov­ers the plot but hardly does the novel jus­tice.

This tem­po­ral, con­tem­pla­tive ex­am­i­na­tion of loss and heal­ing re­veals its se­crets with a re­luc­tance bor­der­ing on the patho­log­i­cal and re­wards slow and care­ful read­ing.

Jess Small, a copy ed­i­tor with a med­i­cal pub­lish­ing house, has wo­ken from a coma to find her­self in a strangely dis­lo­cated nether­world of frac­tured mem­o­ries and un­re­solved emo­tions, mostly re­lated to fam­ily. She is con­fined to a Vic­to­rian nurs­ing home on the edge of the sub­urbs with a view of a scrubby walk­ing track and small hill that of­fer the pos­si­bil­ity of es­cape.

Un­til now, though, Jess has been stricken with a las­si­tude verg­ing on paral­y­sis that has pre­vented her from tak­ing any steps to­wards re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. She prefers the com­pany of her fel­low strokes’’, drown­ers’’ and prangs’’ — the re­cently awo­ken who share her pas­sive ex­is­tence and the com­fort­ing rou­tine of hospi­tal meals and ther­apy ses­sions.

Irena Ivanovich fell from a horse five years ago and lies propped in her bed gaz­ing at the flu­o­res­cent galaxy her hus­band has made for her on the ceil­ing. The Swim­mer left his Rand­wick home one af­ter­noon to top him­self and washed up at Bondi in­stead. He lies on his back, his hands mov­ing on his chest like kelp. Maud Flana­gan is a stroke’’ and mid­night smoker who re­fuses to sleep. Hugh is a dam­aged young tenor whose sob­bing sounds like mu­sic.

Cole- Adams cap­tures beau­ti­fully this twi­light world that ex­ists some­where be­tween sleep and wake­ful­ness with lan­guage that is so lan­guid, at times it seems lifted from a dream. Jess feels the blood bloom­ing in her ears like wing­beats. She is sur­prised, af­ter a psy­chi­atric ses­sion, to have found a whole day curled inside her, gleam­ing and wet like a child. When she thinks about her coma, a feel­ing arises that she can­not name: an ex­quis­ite, ten­der ache that she can taste pooled in the back of her throat. This use of synaes­the­sia lends an or­ganic, po­etic qual­ity to the prose that draws the reader into the dream­like state that Jess is re­luc­tant to leave.

She re­fuses vis­its from her daugh­ter or from her hus­band, Michael, the limpid, asth­matic anaes­thetist who won her over with the steady for­ward mo­men­tum of his sen­tences. The only vis­i­tor she ac­cepts is Hil, the ro­bust spin­ster aunt who reared her. In her work­ing life, Jess found refuge in the safety of other peo­ple’s words, pre­fer­ring to re­veal their thoughts than to con­front her own. Ev­ery­thing about her own writ­ing was de­signed to con­ceal. Sen­tences and para­graphs cor­ral ideas and at times there’s some­thing of the same con­trol about ColeA­dams’s mea­sured words.

It’s only when Jess takes the first ten­ta­tive steps out­side the nurs­ing home and along the rough path that she starts to piece to­gether the frag­ments of her life be­fore the coma. But, even then, noth­ing is given up eas­ily. There is a mov­ing story of loss and aban­don­ment within this novel, but it is so deeply con­cealed it de­mands a re­mark­able per­sis­tence to tease it to the sur­face. Slowly, though, the pieces start to fall qui­etly into place to cel­e­brate the re­silience and re­cu­per­a­tion of a wo­man re­claim­ing con­trol of her life. The re­sult is deeply re­ward­ing and there are mo­ments of sheer beauty along the way. Liam Dav­i­son’s nov­els in­clude Sound­ings and The White Wo­man.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.