The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Lisbet lives with her husband and mother-in-law on a farm on the outskirts of the city, but the household is about to expand. The sister-in-law she has never met returns from seven years in a convent, a punishment for an offence no-one will name. Later, a couple of musicians brought in to facilitate the dancing are billeted upon them and, when a legal threat to the farm takes Heinrich to Heidelberg two days’ ride away, a surprising friendship develops. On top of all that, Lisbet is heavily pregnant, but terrified of miscarriage, as has happened with all her other pregnancies.
Like her previous novel, The Mercies, one of my favourite reads of 2020, this a beautifully written story about loss, misogyny, racism and superstition. Thanks to publishers Picador for my advance proof copy.
Lacuna by Fiona Snyckers
When a senior colleague in the English department at the university draws on the assault in his bestselling novel, Disgrace, Lucy is re-traumatised. While the author, John Coetzee, is lauded for the portrayal, using the rape as a metaphor for atonement and reconciliation, Lucy feels unheard. As she tries to piece her life together, further disturbing revelations arise.
I loved this thought-provoking, challenging and occasionally funny novel that raises so many questions about white privilege, gender inequality and recovery from trauma, both personal and societal, with a light and playful tone. Lucy is an unreliable narrator par excellence, muddling her fantasies with reality, just as John Coetzee’s appropriation of her story blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction.
I was interested in her rejection of the survivor narrative, empowering for some but toxic positivity for those who, like Lucy, perceive themselves as victims. I enjoyed her wry observations about therapy, such as (p22) Shrinks always answer questions with questions and the wonderful The gentleness in her voice tells me she is moving in for the kill. She will make me cry today. Even when the therapist character strays from her practice guidelines, becoming more prescriptive, almost bullying, she is credible as a projection of Lucy’s insecurities.
Follow me to the forest if you want to meet the real me, the me neither my husband nor his mother can bear to see. We’ll pass the bees that I love almost as much as I love my children. When I hum a lullaby, the bees don’t sting.
Come, we’ll leave the path and push through brambles. You must not mind if they scratch. There, in the clearing, the tree leafed with ribbons. My church, my shrine, my loneliness, my refuge, my grief, my hideaway. My memorial: a coloured strip of cloth blooming there for every lost child.