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Watersong by Clarissa Goenawan


Some texts demand attention from the moment you pick them up. They throttle you and force you to consider perspectives, events, concepts and, in their own way, a whole range of possibilities that exist in their world and frame of reference. Here one can imagine the work of writers like Barbara Kingsolver, or Haruki Murakami. The other name to add to that list is Clarissa Goenawan. Goenawan’s novel Watersong is truly magnificent. It touches the soul while exploring the cognitive aspects that have lingered behind certain elements of society.


In Watersong, the protagonist Shouji Arai is a remarkable character, notable for any range of detail that Goenawan so deftly incorporates into her description of him, but perhaps most significantly so is his own depiction of himself as an ‘ear prostitute’. One who serves tea and provides a safe space - a solace if you like - for frustrated or anxious individuals to share their concerns. It is important to note that he does not see himself as a counsellor or some kind of therapist, rather he offers comfort and the safety of anonymity. Until, his destabilising event draws out a deep sense of concern for his personal affairs.


The effects on Shouji of a nefarious reading from a fortune teller is telling of his personal psychological capacity. In this scenario he fears drowning above all else, and his fears are not only for himself but for a mysterious woman who seems to plague his dreams. The plot follows the search for who this connection is, and how through this search he is able to find a constant reflective state in which he hopes to find himself. At the same time, the decision to help a client in need - something outside of the normal series of events for Shouji - takes ever darker turns at each step.


To appreciate the novel is to appreciate the subtleties of writing about character. It is truly a character driven piece that ebbs and flows off the strength of the writing - which is brilliant. The characters linger in the memory as one remembers friendships and conflicts from real life. Her descriptions are visceral and her sequences are plausible and immensely crafted as one would expect an epic poem to be wordsmithed.


Overall, the level of control and depth that Goenawan is able to reach gives rise to a new era of strength in writing. It is challenging to think of a better character driven novel released this year. From chapter one it is clear that Shouji is in for a deep seated confronting conflict, but the angles of narration that are created are enchanting as much as they are deeply unsettling.


Truly a work of art, Clarissa Goenawan’s Watersong will be one that must be considered as a top contender for memorability, and characterisation of the highest degree.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

Scribe Publishing


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