Female-view novel naturally paced

Laurence Fearnley: a keen eye for the natural world. Photo: supplied
Laurence Fearnley: a keen eye for the natural world. Photo: supplied

Laurence Fearnley's latest work is unashamedly feminist, where mother nature rules. 

Laurence Fearnley
Penguin Random House

Reviewed by HELEN SPIERS 

Dunedin writer Laurence Fearnley examines mother nature and the nature of mothering in her latest novel, The Quiet Spectacular.

The novel is written in three parts, from the points of view of three females living in an unnamed rural satellite town in Otago/Southland.

Loretta is a school librarian, a doting mum who ferries her son, Kit, to and from a raft of school and extracurricular activities. Their relationship is uncomplicated and loving, yet tinged with sadness as Loretta is painfully aware her little boy is growing up and the easy bond they share will inevitably change as it has with her older children.

Although in a long-standing and largely satisfactory relationship (after the failure of her first marriage), she is at a crossroads, wondering how to fill her time meaningfully, and starts mulling the idea of a writing project titled ‘‘The Dangerous Book for Menopausal Women''.

Meanwhile, an uncomfortable mother/child relationship is being played out in another family. Chance is a troubled secondary school pupil, a bit of a loner, bright, and who loves reading. But books have become an unlikely weapon of torture used by her dominating mother, Trudy, a clearly unhappy - and therefore highly unpleasant - woman.

Chance is on the outside when it comes to her farming father and two mad-keen go-karting brothers and starts to retreat into her own world, and a not very traditional female hobby: taxidermy.

The third main female protagonist is Riva, an older environmentalist, involved in replanting work at the Tinker Wetlands (clearly modelled on the Sinclair Wetlands), who is mourning the loss of her beloved sister and looking back at their lives.

An old den at the edge of the wetlands becomes the magnet to which the three females are drawn and where they find comfort, in the natural world and each other.

The publisher's blurb states the novel ‘‘subverts the notion of man versus wild''. It certainly is an unashamedly feminist book, where mother nature rules (whether she is in flux, under threat or providing sanctuary) and males are relegated to the sidelines, functioning within the female gaze, and largely reduced to stereotypes.

I can see what the author is trying to do in this book, but I found it lacked any real ‘‘punch'' for me. I realise, of course, this is largely the point.

The novel has its own natural pulse and a ‘‘quiet'' heart, whereas I was probably seeking something more ‘‘spectacular'', along the lines of her previous novels, particularly Edwin and Matilda, The Hut Builder and Reach, all of which I loved.

However, Fearnley's hallmarks of characterisation and a keen eye for the natural world are here in spades, so I'm sure this book will appeal to many. (And the botanical cover is simply gorgeous!)

Helen Speirs is ODT books editor.

Win a copy

The ODT has three copies of The Quiet Spectacular, by Laurence Fearnley, to give away courtesy of Penguin Random House.

For your chance to win a copy, email helen.speirs@odt.co.nz with your name and postal address in the body of the email, and ‘‘Quiet Spectacular Book Competition'' in the subject line, by 5pm on Tuesday, July 5.


Winners of last week's giveaway, Deleted Scenes for Lovers, by Tracey Slaughter, courtesy of Victoria University Press, were: Robyn Foster, Beverly Martens and Bruce Scott, all of Dunedin, Pamela Hill, of Mosgiel, and N. Sunderland, of Oamaru.



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