Two kinds of ab­sences

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

lines. To­wards the end, when the loose ends are (too) neatly gath­ered up and all is re­vealed like some cosy draw­ing-room mys­tery de­noue­ment, Fair­lie “feels like she’s wan­dered on to the set of a soap opera”. The reader too, may feel the book has veered per­ilously close to melo­drama, with too many un­likely coin­ci­dences.

It’s a book crowded with so­cial is­sues, in­clud­ing dys­func­tional and dam­aged fam­i­lies, mixraced adop­tion, post­na­tal de­pres­sion, rape and emo­tional abuse. Set in Penola, be­tween Ade­laide and Mt Gam­bier, Lock’s story is sub­ject to the usual gos­sipy pa­ram­e­ters of small-town men­tal­ity and is es­sen­tially a tale of se­crets and lies (kept and told by ev­ery­one).

Like I Can Love be­gins with the dis­cov­ery of a corpse; Olga Lorenzo’s se­cond novel, The Light on the Wa­ter, is char­ac­terised by the lack of a body. When Anne Bax­ter takes her six-year-old daugh­ter on what was sup­posed to be an overnight bush­walk ex­pe­di­tion in Wil­sons Promon­tory (an ex­panse of wilder­ness in Vic­to­ria’s Gipp­s­land re­gion), she soon rues the day when Aida is ex­posed to “the dull white heat”, be­cause the lit­tle girl doesn’t re­turn home. The mys­tery of what hap­pened to Aida is, how­ever, sub­servient to the more pro­saic de­tails of how Anne copes with her ab­sence.

That her daugh­ter is autis­tic adds an el­e­ment of in­trigue to the story, as oth­ers won­der why Anne would even con­sider trekking with a child with spe­cial needs. But Anne is re­cently di­vorced and per­haps not think­ing clearly, with the de­sire for mo­men­tary es­cape tak­ing prece­dence over prag­matic con­sid­er­a­tions.

De­spite only cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence, Anne is charged with her daugh­ter’s mur­der nearly two years af­ter Aida’s dis­ap­pear­ance. While she is on bail and await­ing trial, the book charts her strug­gle with be­ing pre­ma­turely con­demned. As the scar­let rib­bon of gos­sip runs through the neigh­bour­hood, Anne finds her­self be­sieged by the un­kind­ness of strangers. The nu­mer­ous ev­ery­day tasks that seem to over­whelm her — such as gro­cery shop­ping at odd hours to avoid ac­cusatory stares and, rather omi­nously, fail­ing to keep some of her aquar­ium fish alive — mean that any spiky de­vel­op­ments sur­round­ing

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