Here is Angela Long’s review of the 4th book shortlisted in the The Stella Prize 2016.
Title: The World Without Us
Author: Mireille Juchau
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing 2015
Angela’s Review: The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau is a multi faceted work about loss and grief; intimacy and communication; but above all—survival.
‘They’ve already survived the indescribable: named the stars to distract a sister, stood very still as her coffin hovered. They’d lost Pip and a fellow feeling. They’d lost the mother who’d once been fearless.’
After the death of their youngest daughter Pip, each member of the Müller family is trying to manage their loss. Meg, now the youngest, surrounds herself with music and copious drawings of the feelings she cannot articulate. The eldest daughter Tess refuses to talk, not uttering a sound since Pip died. Their father Stefan finds distraction in the bottom of a bottle and their mother Evangeline has stopped painting and withdrawn from her family. It is the silence, the inability to communicate, that creates the most damage. Tess has chosen to remain mute, a punishment to herself and her family; but others are simply incapable of facing the memories that wound. Entombed in her own silent suffering, Evangeline deflects her pain in the arms of a lover. Scraps of memory collide in her scarred amnesic past and we glimpse her earlier years in the nearby 70’s commune ‘The Hive’ and sense there is a larger story looming.
Juchau’s poetic prose draws a beautiful interaction between place and character, one echoing the other, and forming a symbiotic relationship. Fighting to survive under the pressure of climate change and corporate inducements to allow gas seam fracking, the rural town of Bidgalong Valley is undergoing change. Like the failing hives they tend to, they are ‘creatures where they oughtn’t be, things obeying no natural order’. There is a parallel between the Müller family and the hives that are the backbone of their survival. Evangeline—the queen of Honig Farm—is the centre of the family’s life—‘For indeed the ascetic workers, her daughters, regard the queen above all as the organ of love, indispensable, certainly, and sacred, but in herself somewhat unconscious.’—without her the family will fail. On a larger scale the novel provides a window into a global perspective, where organised communities of bees and towns face collapse. They must persevere and adapt to their new environments or become extinct.
Although the storyline revolves around the Müller family tragedy, there are a tangle of subsequent plotlines. Like a piece of origami, the intricate folds combine to form an elaborate story. The mystery of the destruction of the hippie commune; the discovery of a skeleton in the shell of an old car wreck; and the historical and emotional bonds of various interconnecting figures. These are fragmented within the work, disclosing themselves along with the perspectives, discoveries and memories of each character. I often found myself backtracking to previous sections to ensure I hadn’t missed a key point, or misread a plotline.
The feeling created is one of disconnection, mirroring the novel, and enhanced by Juchau’s style, exposing only part of each character and leaving many details unknown. At the end many of these threads are left only partly resolved, the reader being denied the satisfying ‘tying up’ that we expect, and are given, in today’s modern novel. As such, I was forced to think a little more, form my own opinions and in the end was given the freedom to conjure my own conclusions to a complex piece of writing.
For more information please see the author’s website: Mireille Juchau
2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge: This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library for the 2016 Australian Women Writers challenge. For more information please see their website ‘Supporting and promoting books by Australian women’
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Stay posted for the last two 2016 Stella Prize reviews from Angela:
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright