In her soli­tude, with mem­o­ries that never die

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ed Wright

THIS promis­ing de­but novel from Mel­bourne au­thor Me­lanie Joosten, a grad­u­ate of univer­sity cre­ative writ­ing and edit­ing cour­ses, be­gins with the fa­mil­iar idea of girl meets boy in an ex­otic lo­cale, in this case the bo­hemian hub of con­tem­po­rary Ber­lin. Clare is a young Aus­tralian pho­togra- pher who has come to Europe, hav­ing been com­mis­sioned to do a book on build­ings from the com­mu­nist era. She meets Andi, a Ger­man English teacher, and af­ter a sec­ond serendip­i­tous meet­ing they end up in bed.

But just as you are be­gin­ning to think same old, same old — arty girl with groovy job goes to cool city and shags a funky lo­cal — the story morphs into some­thing rather more in­ter­est­ing.

The ti­tle gives a hint but it would be a shame to give any more away here since the tran­si­tion is deft, and in a book light on plot the reader may need the sur­prise of this shift to main­tain nar­ra­tive mo­men­tum.

Suf­fice it to say that the strength of this novel is not so much what hap­pens (or in­deed doesn’t hap­pen), it’s the way the ex­pe­ri­ence is fil­tered through its pro­tag­o­nist. In its be­gin­nings, Clare seems to be af­flicted with a pe­cu­liar kind of gen­er­a­tion-Y self­con­scious quirk­i­ness. How­ever, she soon emerges as a char­ac­ter of con­sid­er­able in­ter­est, dam­aged yet ca­pa­ble of fresh in­sights about the world and her­self at the mo­ment she is forced to rely on her in­ner re­sources. While I suspect that as a mid­dleaged man I am not the tar­get mar­ket for The Ber­lin Syn­drome, I en­joyed read­ing it be­cause Joosten’s skil­ful con­struc­tion of Clare suc- cess­fully drew me through her eyes.

In an age dom­i­nated by the preva­lence of ex­ter­nal stim­uli, Joosten chooses to put Clare through an op­po­site ex­pe­ri­ence, where her world is rad­i­cally re­duced. Clare is fre­quently at a loss for things to do, and we learn most about her through her thoughts and re­flec­tions in the large slabs of soli­tude she en­dures. Un­der less skil­ful hands, this might have been turgid but Joosten pulls it off with a sure touch and lu­cid prose that wears its philo­soph­i­cal in­cli­na­tions with ad­mirable light­ness.

While Clare is the strength of the novel, its

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