Saturday, 14 September 2019

Book review: The Erratics, Vicki Laveau-Harvie (2018)

It’s difficult to say much about what is recounted in this memoir because I don’t want to give away anything the reader might not want to know before buying it. Having said that, this is a very good read and, while the person who wrote it is completely unremarkable, it must stand as a reliable account of how a mother can become a menace to her children and to her husband. As such, this tale reverses some of the commonplaces that populate the media in our day and age.

The name of the book derives from a succession of large rocks that were left in the wake of the retreat of a sheet of ice that once sat along the west coast of North America where, now, parts of the United States and Canada are situated. This piece of poetry is skilfully performed and the rocks reemerge at the very end of the narrative to form the second of two brackets within which the drama plays out.

The language is succinct and the author is a competent user of commas, which are deployed to help create the cadences of speech and to add emphasis at points of heightened tension or of relief. The reader must forge on from them not knowing how the story will play out. The technique used belongs in the arsenal of the novelist, and it is good fun to find a writer who can use the same tactics that animate fiction to create a work of nonfiction. This breed of book is not uncommon these days but I find that it is still unusual enough to warrant remarking on it when I find it.

This book won the Stella Prize, a prominent literary award exclusively for Australian women, and I feel that, for a change, the right book was chosen. So many prize-winners turn out, in the reading, to be poor substitutes for the kind of reading experience that transports, entertains, and educates.

Laveau-Harvie’s father fought in WWII. She worked (like her mother) as an academic. She has adult children and has made Australia her home, embracing aspects of the local culture that contrast with what she and her sister grew up with in Canada. Occasionally, such insights appear in the novel to help anchor the reader’s imagination in the real world as the author tries to explain her mother’s personality. She begins slowly, deliberately, and her mother doesn’t really make much of an appearance until you are already caught in the web of the narrative.

Despite her childhood trials, the author’s own personality lacks any trace of a need to feel sorry for herself. There are a lot of other good things I could say about this book, which was originally brought out by a small Sydney press (which has now closed its doors) before being picked up by an imprint belonging to one of the major houses. 

No comments: