Islands by Peggy Frew
Helen and John are too preoccupied with making a mess of their marriage to notice the quiet ways in which their daughters are suffering. Junie grows up brittle and defensive, Anna difficult and rebellious. When fifteen-year-old Anna fails to come home one night, her mother's not too worried; Anna's taken off before but always returned. Helen waits three days to report her disappearance. But this time Anna doesn't come return.
What follows is multiple narrators that tell the events surrounding Anna’s disappearance and the fallout that follows.
Frew uses numerous formats to convey the story – from artwork descriptions, transcripts, Christmas Day gifts, diary entries, as well as the conventional narrative form.
The first third of the book is a bewildering experience. It is confusing, rambling and incredibly difficult to follow. It demands attention from the very first page, and really isn’t a book that you can sit down and relax with. There was no real flow to the story, and with the voice changing so often, it was hard to keep track of the numerous characters and viewpoints. The story shifting in time only confused the matter more.
However, once the book settled down a little, more of Frew’s intention came through. Islands is a great representation of the family – with the collective family deconstructed into its individual parts. Each family members becomes an isolated island themselves as the depth of the loss is felt.
It was difficult to really get to know each character, because of the rapid change of narrator. There were also characters that had no real point to the story and only confounded the story more.
Once the story starts to level out, June’s viewpoint becomes more compelling. Frew writes with poetic grace, with lots of moments that had me reaching for the highlighter. Her prose is beautiful and lyrical. The ending is a unique chapter that both infuriated and delighted with its repetitive style.
Islands is an interesting story about the absolute devastation and wide-ranging damage caused by the breakup of a family. It’s a contradictory book – one that will both infuriate and delight readers that make the commitment to it.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99