This book wins the title for most beautiful cover of the year, and what’s on the pages more than matches it. This is a gentle, flowing, river of a thing with currents of poetic writing on the surface, and an undertow of an intriguing story.
What the back cover says:
After a fire destroys her family’s commune home, Evangeline is forced to start afresh in the north coast rainforest town with her child, and partner, Stefan Muller.
Years later, while tending the bees on their farm, Stefan discovers a car wreck, and not far off, human remains. While the locals speculate on who has gone missing from the transient hinterland town, Stefan’s daughters Tess and Meg, have a more urgent mystery. Where does their mother go each day, pushing an empty pram and returning wet, muddy and disheveled?
Jim Parker, a Sydney teacher escaping his own troubles arrives in their clannish community. One morning he stumbles upon Evangeline, naked by a river with a hammer and some rope. Their charged encounter propels Evangeline’s past into the present and sparks a change in all their lives.
Meanwhile ten year old Tess, mute since the loss of her youngest sister, attempts to escape. Will getting lost help her discover where she belongs?
As the rainy season descends, and each of the family are separated by flood, they realise nothing is what it seems.
What I say:
Usually, I do most of reading in bed before I go to sleep.
The advantage of this is that it helps me to fall asleep.
The disadvantage is that it helps me to fall asleep.
Sometimes, I’m too sleepy to truly absorb the words on the page, and when I come back to them the next night I feel disconnected from the story.
It’s a mistake to read when this tired (unless you want to re-read the same chapter five times) and sadly, it’s a mistake I made when reading The World Without Us.
I was too tired. The words weren’t sinking in. I couldn’t remember the characters. Then, one day, I had half an hour of morning reading time. I had just woken. I was fresh. Alert. I spent half an hour with The World Without Us, and I was hooked. Like I was suddenly reading another book.
Juchau’s writing demands concentration. It is poetic, verging on experimental. Certainly very fluid – witness the lack of quotation marks for dialogue. You can’t read it while half-comatose, it deserves better than that. Characters are described as having ‘frowzy’ and ‘snaggy’ hair, another character ‘picks a hangnail till blood jewels out.’ Jewels out – who would think to use jewel as a verb?
This is a writer whose powers of observation are pretty extraordinary. Juchau’s ability to describe the minutiae of life with fresh and invigorating imagery is, at times, quite breathtaking.
The sisters’ arms, side by side at the table, catch Tess’s eye but no one else seems to notice how much like piano keys they are, the dark and the pale, one more plaintive, one calmer, fuller.
This book has to much to say about love and grief and communal living, but Mireille Juchau never really comes out and says it – she presents the pieces of the jigsaw, and it’s up to you, the reader, to put them together.
You have to work for this book, but it rewards those who put in the effort.
The fictional Bidgalong Valley, where the book is set, is a haven for those in search of a better life, an alternative existence. It is a haven for hippies and survivalists, but it is also a valley that is ‘wormy with secrets’.
The people there are in search of utopia and simplicity, but they are plagued by their pasts. Every character is in a state of flux. Everything is at risk.
The valley itself is under threat from coal seam gas operations. Farmers are losing their bees. Externally, the people of this valley are losing their idyll. And the external threat is more than matched by inner, emotional turmoil, with all of the key characters in various states of grief.
I haven’t even mentioned the bees. The bees that serve, in this book, as a kind of metaphor for life, one I’m still trying to work out.
I think it’ll take me a while, but I think that’s ok.
I still can’t even fathom me how these tiny little bugs create something as delicious as honey. It’s a kind of magic that I’ll probably never completely understand. But I’ll keep thinking and wondering – about the bees, and this book.
For more information, or to buy copy, visit Bloomsbury