The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper
Samantha, a self-doubting wife and mother of three teenage boys, seems particularly nervous about the psychological and physical challenge. But she can’t say no. Nicole, an unattached and restless professional, keeps herself aloof from both reader and companions initially, and we eventually discover why. Lisa is perhaps the most open about her limitations, although ambivalent about renouncing the anger that defines her but has driven her daughter away.
It was Lisa’s aggression that catalysed the young women’s difficulties when they first visited these parts. Failing to slow down on arriving at the trail car park, she showered another driver with dust. When he declined Samantha’s apology, Lisa refused to back down, leading him to retaliate in a most unpleasant way. As their paths cross over the next few days, things turn very nasty indeed.
In her second novel, Brisbane-based author Sally Piper beautifully evokes both the geography and the friendship, and their changes over time. The wilderness might have been somewhat tamed in the intervening years, with clearer signage and long-drop toilets at the camps, but the misogyny that gave birth to the #metoo movement might not have altered as much as we’d hope. The creeping menace, as well as the young women’s self-sabotage and unwillingness to acknowledge the evidence before them, was also very convincing.
Am I similarly guilty of underestimating the risks if I admit that I found the stalker/bully somewhat extreme? After all, I know such characters exist – and worse – but, as I tell those who express surprise that I’m not afraid to go walking alone, why would they travel out to the countryside when they could find a victim with less effort nearer home? It would be interesting to compare reading experiences with someone less invested in solo walking.
As a fast walker myself, I sympathised with Nicole’s striding ahead (p101):
Nicole … hadn’t known how to slow her body down, how to make it four in with the slow pace of others. If she tried to, she became agitated with restlessness. A kind of madness in stasis. Her body tensed with the urge to move. She had to consciously hold herself back like a pulled bowstring, while her mind – her conscience – said that she must stop, that she must wait.
This is another great addition to my collection of female Australian authors. Thanks to this novel’s British publisher, Legend Press for my review copy.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
With wry humour and beautiful prose, Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel delves into the hearts and minds of all five main characters, reviewing the paths that led to this situation, and their fears of where it might lead. Tragedy has brought all four women to the marriage, and it isn’t only the educated woman who harbours secret plans.
Published by Serpent’s Tail in 2010, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives predates another Nigerian novel about infertility, Stay With Me. I can happily recommend both. (Sorry it’s such a short review: I’m nursing a cold!)