Search backtracks to retrace the path of memory

Willie Campbell reviews A week in the life of Cassandra Aberline, by Glenda Guest. Published by Text Publishing.

Cassie Aberline is appalled that when leading a theatre tutorial she can't recall the name of Bertolt Brecht.

Eminently sensible, she makes an appointment with a neurologist and is distressed by the experience and his diagnosis of her difficulties.

Finding that her mind, a precious unseen thing of which she is proud, can let her down, she goes back to basics - begin at the beginning.

She travels on the train, the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Western Australia, retracing her steps, and at all points reflects on her life, in particular the questions of identity and wise insight.

While the title gives us the now, Glenda Guest gives us the then and its consequences for the now.

In rich and evocative language, referencing the thoughts of philosophers and novelists, she takes us along with Cassie through a series of reflections on an earlier life, its events and the impact they have on her as a mature person.

Still, the notion and fear of losing the memories is uppermost and the question of secure knowledge of identity the primary driver.

From Sydney to Broken Hill, the train begins the journey to ''home'', a place she hasn't been to in 45 years, but still has no other word to describe.

Her family appears before us, fragments embedded in her mind.

Cassie watching her mother at the kitchen table with her glass of sherry, sensing her sister Helen as the cautious goody-goody, her father storing money in the hiding place, talking to her in a way that makes her feel grown up.

As the train slows its pace, Cassie wakes, wondering: does she know herself? She must find herself before she changes and where will she be found? Her brain is becoming a jumble of disconnected neurones.

In this early piece of Cassie's journey, Guest reveals to us the context and drivers of the week in her life and as the train moves from station to station, layers of description bring us experiences peopled by those who both form and challenge her identity.

They further the notion that ''memory is an ambush in waiting''.

The intensity of these challenges deepens and is aided by the characters we meet.

Guest has given us a character able to ask many of the important questions about a life and its purpose.

A thoughtful and challenging story.

-Willie Campbell is a Dunedin educator.

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