Myfanwy Jones is an exciting writer, and she puts those skills on full display in ‘Leap’ – a story of loss and learning to love again.
What the back cover says:
Joe lives-despite himself. Driven by the need to atone for the neglect of a single tragic summer’s night, he works at nothing jobs and, in his spare time, trains his body and mind to conquer the hostile environment that took his love and smashed up his future. So when a breathless girl turns up on the doorstep, why does he let her in? Isn’t he done with love and hope?
On the other side of the city, graphic designer Elise is watching her marriage bleed out. She retreats to the only place that holds any meaning for her-the tiger enclosure at the zoo-where, for reasons she barely understands, she starts to sketch the beautiful killers.
Leap is a beautiful urban fairytale about human and animal nature, and the transformative power of grief.
In Leap, Joe (one of the two narrators) is a practitioner of parkour. He is a traceur – who sees fences, stairs, railings, walls and bridges as obstacles which one must overcome using only the body in the most efficient way possible.
While Joe’s mates refer to it as his ‘little tricks’, parkour is a serious physical and mental training regime.
It’s about seeing the environment differently, and navigating through it in new and unusual ways.
In many ways, Myfanwy Jones is also a traceur. But she is a traceur of writing.
Language is her environment. Words are her obstacles, and she navigates through them in new and unusual ways.
In the parkour scenes, for example, the language becomes fragmented, shortened and punctuated to reflect the rhythm, energy and economy of Joe’s movements.
Precision landing, right foot swivelling left. Swerving around woman with pram; dash to corner. Sharp right towards the playground, clearing the rail with a speed vault.
Then, there are the imagery-perfect metaphors..
The tiger is so startlingly beautiful she could be a coked-up supermodel: the bored demeanour; the unpredictability; those crazy stripes daubed over her jack-o’-lantern fur and soft white underbelly; stiletto talons that could release your soul before you’ve had time even to yelp.
I know it sounds strange when people comment on ‘the writing’ as being a book’s strength. After all, a book is writing, and writing alone.
But there’s writing, and then there’s writing.
Leap contains the latter.
Jones is smart enough and restrained enough to give the reader plenty of space in what might have become and overly sentimental love story.
I was interested the back cover’s description of it as an ‘urban fairytale’, and Leap can certainly be read as a blurring of reality and fantasy – or it can simply be read as a story that poses questions of the reader. Jones’s restraint gives us plenty of space to think for ourselves.
While the writing is undoubtedly the strength of this work, there are also some interesting structural devices at work.
For much of the book, the reader is unaware of the link between Joe and Elise. Their stories run on parrallel tracks and slowly, slowly come together. There are synergies at play which are only displayed in their full glory at the end. It is this that keeps the reader reading.
It would be easy to sum Leap up as being a book about grief, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. To me, it’s actually about learning to love again, in the wake of loss. But that probably makes it sound cliched, which it isn’t.
If Jones proves anything, it is that language, and life, offer too many possibilities to reside in the tedium of cliche.
Myfanwy Jones is the author of The Rainy Season, shortlisted for The Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award 2009, and co-author of the bestselling Parlour Games for Modern Families, Book of the Year for Older Children ABIA 2010. She lives by a creek in Melbourne with her human and non-human family.
*For more information about Leap, reading group notes, or to buy the book, visit Allen & Unwin.