The Quiet Spectacular is the latest novel from Dunedin writer Laurence Fearnley. It’s a quiet story, rooted in the landscape. Centering around three quite different women, it subverts the ‘man vs wild’ construct.
The three female protagonists are all at points of transition in their lives. Teenage Change is dominated by her cruelly unhappy mother, and desperate to get out of her family situation. Riva, wealthy ex-business owner and wildlife activist, is grieving her sister who died four years ago. Finally, there is Loretta, a school librarian, who’s aware her life is about to change as her youngest child is about to leave home and her partner is grumbling about giving up work.
A secret den the wildlife sanctuary becomes a haven for the three women, and there they face the changes in their lives that are to come.
Fearnley’s writing is beautiful, the landscape woven into the story. The landscape of The Quiet Spectacular is not spectacular unless you’re paying close attention, which these three women, for their own reasons, are.
And that sums up this novel in many ways. It’s not showy, and while the women are all facing quite difficult life challenges, the conflict is submerged under their everyday life. Men are firmly on the outskirts of the novel, it’s refreshing to read a book about women that isn’t centered around their relationships with men.
The book is structured into three sections – unlike other books with multiple narrators, this book doesn’t chop and change between the women, rather they all get a long section each.
There is something about The Quiet Spectacular that didn’t fire for me. While Fearnley is an award-winning author and her writing is rich, the novel lacks the emotional depth of truly high stakes. It’s a quiet, well-crafted book, but there is no real punch.