From the Wreck by Jane Rawson
Like Eleanor Anstruther in A Perfect Explanation, Jane Rawson has taken some facts from her family history and woven into a page-turning story, in this case with a wacky but convincing sci-fi supernatural element. Owing his survival to an extraplanetary shape-shifting succubus resembling a blue octopus in its natural state, George’s subsequent life is more affected by the wreck than he dare admit. He marries and has three children but when the eldest, Henry, bears the mark of the strange creature, he’s sure his family’s doomed.
Beautifully written, with George, Henry, another outsider, Beatrice Gallwey, and the alien as point-of-view characters, From the Wreck is a lovely story of survival, community and transgenerational trauma. Lauded when first published in Australia, my proof copy came courtesy of British publishers, Picador.
Asylum by Marcus Low
A possible suicide attempt grants Barry the opportunity to meet with a psychologist although, given his lack of agency, there’s an element of coercion involved. As well as adding a spot of female colour into the grey institution, Ms Van Vuuren serves as a plot device for Barry to record his feelings and day-to-day activities in a journal which, along with occasional textural intrusions from an ‘editor’, constitutes the novel. But, with his fever dreams and, according to her report, psychosis, can we take him at his word?
The psychologist is also the vehicle through which discover Barry’s back story although, once again, there’s a warning he might be making some of this up. Then of course there are the standard fictional therapist boundary violations regular readers of my reviews will have come to expect. Admittedly, boundaries can be more difficult to maintain in real-life institutional settings, but, although she does manage to restrain herself, Ms Van Vuuren seems to feel she owes Barry her story having coaxed his out of him (p185).
With my own interest in asylum literature, as discussed in posts about my possibly third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, I had hoped to engage with this more. While there are many fine phrases, especially in descriptions of the natural world, I didn’t feel heavily invested in Barry’s narrative. Nevertheless, I appreciate the author’s attempt to capture the randomness of illness in the plight of a man who has cut his ties with whatever life he had before.
Thanks to Legend Press for my review copy. For another fictional South African psychologist, see my review of Azanian Bridges.
The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann translated by
As Japanese culture is to Westerners, The Pine Islands is alluring, intriguing and difficult to fathom. I decided it was best to go with the flow. I enjoyed it, but can’t be sure I understood it so, instead of attempting an overview, I’ll focus on a couple of places where the novel intersects with some of my own preoccupations as a reader and writer.
As you might expect, there are reflections on how travel entices and affects us, with death as the ultimate destination (p84):
Learning to die. The journey that serves to distance oneself from everything, in order to get closer to something, was nothing more than the contemplation of the space that resulted from the journey itself … One follows the subtle shifts, the illusory imagery, one really hopes to become clearer about one’s own self, that most elusive of things.
I was also delighted to discover another toilet description to add to my collection (p88):
The toilet apparatus didn’t only offer warm flushing water and a heated toilet seat, it also functioned as a stereo with a wide selection of soundscapes including the sea, rain showers, waterfalls of various heights and babbling brooks, but also tweeting birds, the wind in desolate treetops, storms on the coast, as well as all of Mozart’s violin concertos. The mania with cleanliness in this country had gone so far that they even wanted to flush away filthy noises with water sounds … Don’t the intensified water noises only drastically heighten the feelings of shame?
Thanks to Serpent’s Tail for my advance proof copy. Apologies for the somewhat bitty review.