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Meltwater by Suzanne Ashmore

This is a lyrical, literary novel that is confronting, courageous and heartbreaking but full of hope for the future. Based on a true story, it follows the main character, Elizabeth, from her early years. But as the novel progresses the reader meets 13 other ‘selves’, all part of Elizabeth, and all created to bury memories of shocking abuse.

There is the Beatrice, the storyteller with stolen stories. There is Susannah with her special wings and the ability to fly up with the bad memories keeping them safe in the land of forgetting. There is Hannah, who knows who to put up a fight. There is Sylvie who understands her job is gathering up Elizabeth’s pain. There is also Gregory, Anna, Bessie, Lizzie, Linda, James, Lydia, Jessica and Jack. Beatrice tells each of their stories, as part of Elizabeth’s life, and the account is immediate and evocative, moody and compelling.

The landscape also changes as the other selves come and go, from the Southern Alps, to the brittle cold of the Central Plateau and the volcanic slopes of Mt Taranaki.

Finally Elizabeth’s mind shatters, forcing her into asylum care. After leaving hospital she achieves the stability she wants and needs. But then she seeks help from a therapist and begins her real journey, her real story, frozen in time, finally melting.

I’ve never read a novel like Meltwater before. It’s beautifully written, incredibly personal, but also a book that I could only read in small sections. The abuse that Elizabeth suffers is horrific, but her resilience and the resilience of her other selves kept me reading. And if 13 other selves sounds crowded and confusing, Beatrice as storyteller manages to convey order in this chaos. Meltwater gripped me from the opening pages to the very end. It’s a thought-provoking, edgy read that is unnerving and upsetting in places, but that also manages to be beautiful and a celebration of human resilience.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Mary Egan Publishing, RRP $30

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