Thursday, February 16, 2017

Georgia Blain's final book: unflinching, despairing

GEORGIA Blain’s first novel was set in Adelaide and was called ‘Closed For Winter.’ Quite a haunting novel, it was an accomplished debut, about a young girl who struggles with the fact that her slightly older sister has gone missing, perhaps due to foul play. Her mother also struggles to cope, neurotically cutting out newspaper articles about crimes, from memory. The protagonist’s voice, in first person, was steady, unblinking and plainly adorned, and was very effective as a symbol of uncertainty and suffering. I remember the great Australian reviewer, James Bradley, enjoyed the book, calling it ‘Beachside Gothic’ in his ABR review.

Well, Georgia Blain’s dead now. She died at the age of not much more than 50, and her mother died just a few days later, back in December last year. So she had a fairly brief writing life, although generous if you want to compare her with people like Emily Bronte or John Keats.
Her final book, ‘Between A  Wolf And A Dog’, has its moments, but it isn’t, in my opinion, one of her best books. There is a mother, filmmaker, who is dying of brain cancer and cannot tell her two daughters. Her husband, an accomplished artist, has already died. She finishes herself off with a large dose of heroin. Of her two daughters, one is at a loose end but used to be a pretty good songwriter. She is estranged from her sister because she had sex with her sister’s husband. Naturally, her sister is estranged from her husband as a result. She is a family therapist, so we are introduced to the miserable lives of her ‘patients’, some of them crying because of failed relationship, another desperately sad and neurotic because she has never had sex. The sister, therefore, does not communicate with ex-husband or sister, and is beginning to conduct a new relationship which, admittedly, holds some hope.

This sister has two young daughters who are pretty obnoxious and play the parents off against each other, sometimes feigning illness to get out of school. One day she sees her father kissing her mother’s sister (it seems the taboo relationship might start up again), and won’t talk to her father as a result.

The father is pretty hopeless. By the end of the novel he is crying in synch with the rain being splashed on the car windscreen. He is some sort of pollster who is lazy and unethical, and he gets dismissed from his job and finds he has nowhere to go and nothing to do. The damaging sex he had with his sister-in-law was reckless and occurred because both were bored. He takes drugs and is a well-known womaniser, devilishly handsome, but best steered away from. He is only redeeming experience is at the end of the book, when he is surprisingly able to keep his mother-in-law’s suicide a secret.

The other thing about this book. On top of all these awful people, and the difficulty I had in finding pathos and empathy, it is constantly raining. Georgia Blain must have found at least 20 or 30 ways to describe torrential rainfall. It adds to the depressing, claustrophobic, despairing nature of the novel. Just like some dystopian Blade Runner-like atmosphere, this unrelenting rain. It seeps into the soul of the characters and weighs them down helplessly, just like some of Ray Bradbury’s characters.

I wished I had liked ‘Between A Wolf And A Dog’ more. The best thing I can say about it is that there is a certain boldness and truthfulness, as always, in Georgia Blain’s writing. An appealing lack of sentimentality, perhaps. But I wish she allowed the sun to creep in a little bit more. Sure, in the end, the characters do strive for equilibrium or redemption in some ways, but is all seems so submerged by their depressing worries and poor life choices.

I also wish I could find a truly great novel. It has been at least 7 or 8 books since I read something I really like. Alex Miller’s ‘Coal Creek’. He leaves most contemporary authors for dead.

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