- Title: Anchor Point
- Author: Alice Robinson
- Publisher: Affirm Press 2015
- Long listed for the 2016 Stella Prize
Angela Long’s review: Alice Robinson describes her work as “writing for good- writing to enact positive social change” (The Conversation. The Conversation, 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.). Her debut novel ‘Anchor Point’ is a mix of social commentary, historical reflection and dystopian foresight; wherein Robinson focuses on personal tragedy to highlight the mores of her characters, each of whom are defined by place and history, anchored to the roots of their past and the place they call home.
During a raging flood, Laura’s mother Kath disappears from their remote farm in Western Victoria. Her father Bruce and the small farming community can find no trace of her, and assume the worst. Only Laura knows the truth and as she childishly burns the evidence, she becomes burdened with the guilt of knowing and the fear of discovery. Her penitence is to step into the role vacated by her mother. “Laura slipped the noose of Kathryn’s apron over her head” “the weight of her sister’s needs a milkmaid’s yoke”. No action occurs in isolation. Laura’s choices not only change the course of her family’s life, but irretrievably scar her and the landscape they live in.
Obsessed with forging forward after Kath’s disappearance; Laura’s father Bruce clears the land of the trees that have swallowed his wife, forcing the harsh terrain into submission. His actions give him a sense of re-establishing control over his life, but as the trees disappear ‘Laura sensed the land growing quiet’, the character changes and erodes, leaving the farm and its inhabitants exposed to the follies of climate. As the trees are stripped and the landscape laid bare, Laura embodies the destruction of the land and becomes its martyr. Trapped by the men that love her and who represent the societal struggle between farmers, traditional land owners and science. “she felt drawn and quartered by these men, their ideas for her, their needs. … decades of obedience”. As there was such a strong metaphorical link between the characters and the themes, some of the events rendered felt contrived to resolve plot points and this distracted me from the otherwise well developed relationships.
Robinson’s keen eye for landscape draws it as an evocative character in its own right allowing the reader to mourn for its demise alongside that of Laura. With time it holds little resemblance to what it once was, forcing the characters to rely on memory as proof. The lone tree remaining alongside the home bears its scar as witness. ‘They were here’ … ‘Trees are proof.’ The scars on both the landscape and it’s inhabitants are proof, but they mean nothing without memory. Proof and memory slides side by side in the narrative. The truth of history is changed when Laura lies; Laura’s sister Vik holds on to memories that become falsehoods; and when both Bruce and Laura become victims of their own memories with early onset Alzheimer’s, Laura’s desire to redeem the damage done and regenerate the land, slips like her memory. Life is repetition, a series of circles that return to what there was, to the familiar, the remembered. Without memory is proof obliterated? Without memory, are we chained to the yoke of damage to repeat the history of our forebears?
Although beautifully crafted, Robinson’s poetic prose becomes laborious as a vehicle for Laura’s internal dialogue. She isn’t a likeable character and becomes preachy, leaving little room for the reader’s own conclusions. Robinson may also have been overly ambitious in making ‘Anchor Point’ a statement for change in too many areas. Her social commentary includes themes of loss and guilt, duty and desire, feminism, indigenous rights and climate change. At times the messages became muddled and lost some of the impact that pairing down would have given them.
Overall however this is a beautiful debut novel that shows skill in its rendering and an ethical storyline that asks questions without forcing a resolution.
For more information: Affirm Press
This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
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