Warm heart and chill wind
South Island lakes are the setting of a lyrically told story with a lost and rueful cast.
Afirst novel. From a “boutique publishing co-operative”. (Watch that b-word, folks.) By a graduate of a creative writing degree course. That’s a contemporary literary trinity
right there. Framed in a sensuously realised and frequently anthropomorphised setting of South Island lakes, near Kurow with its square mown lawns and twitching curtains, Thalia Henry’s narrative moves among another threesome, of bruised protagonists.
We have Delia, bereft painter and sculptor in Oamaru stone; Luke the worm-eating drifter; Jane the model, her personal and professional lives full of poses. Let’s add Helen the mum, who has her own decorous anxieties.
They’re all fleeing, avoiding, denying in various ways. Just about everyone is or has
lost. They’re alone, from their first day at school, in some cases. They struggle to relate, eschew empathy. Terms of endearment are absent. Smiles are scarce, and mostly rueful.
So, a plot where the warm heart glows, or where the chill wind blows? Sensibly, it’s a bit of both. Characters do start to reach out, mostly with their fingertips, though there’s a rather endearing commitment on a bicycle built for one, plus a semi-reconciliation of apologies and skinny-dipping.
A bloodied eel coils through the story. The above bicycle is one of the casualties
in a pretty hectic finale of scars and vomit, gun and snow, hawks and hospital.
Henry is also a playwright, and her dialogue here is lucid and springy. We could do with more of it: the novel is so closely written that it sometimes feels as if the author is stepping through minefields; so painstaking that it’s occasionally angular and awkward.
Yet it’s a rewarding book to read attentively. There’s lyricism; fidelity to emotional textures; striking close-up renderings of a bed of stones, a hierarchy of sandals, the multiple blues of a lake.
And it’s dedicated to the author’s mum and dad. Very commendable. So is a good deal of Beneath Pale Water.
Thalia Henry: lucid, springy dialogue. BENEATH PALE WATER, by Thalia Henry (Cloud Ink, $29.95)