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There was one additional thing I can hardly bring myself to mention: an expectancy. I sensed it, felt it hovering lightly in the air. The house was awaiting its new owners, impatient for its life’s work and purpose to begin. It was almost as if it was – repudiating me, but that is too strong.

Yet I was aware that a distance had opened up between us. The intimacy of our relationship, the three-way interplay of myself, Teddy, house – it was no longer there. And more than that, it was as if it had never been. It had blown away, just like my money. Vanished without a trace, and from this day forward I could be nothing but a casual visitor.

I felt I was trespassing in my own house.

I am becoming wary of reading any further books featuring teachers. My dad was a teacher and I have worked with Education departments in the time, so I have a lot of empathy for the profession. Yet every book I read involving a teacher these days seems to involve child abuse of  one form or another. Not comfortable reading, certainly not something I would choose to read. So it would take an extra special author to attract me to this kind of story.

Luckily Virginia Duigan is just such an author.

Thea is a retired school principal who has enjoyed her lonesome existence in the Blue Mountains accompanied only by her dog Teddy. Unfortunately due to a slight hiccup in her finances – and the complete loss of her savings – she has been forced to sell her dream home. The couple who buy the property, Frank and Ellice, are trendy hipster who seem inoffensive enough at first, but Thea cannot help but feel resentful as she is forced to retreat to the old hut she owns on a neighbouring plot.

Then she meets the couple’s adopted child Kim. The young girl, abandoned by Frank’s absent brother, instantly bond with Teddy much to Thea’s initial annoyance. However, as time she passes she discovers a kindred spirit in the twelve-year-old, a girl who is as out of time as Thea, eagerly devouring old books and adopting the older woman’s speech patterns.

During this period of upheaval in her life, Thea has also been attending a series of writing classes. Though she is fond of quirky rhymes, she feels insecure about her own literary talents. As the book progresses it becomes clear that her classes are also intended to facilitate a long-overdue catharsis, concerned with a teaching colleague from years before named Matthew. Thea still carries a massive burden of guilt related to the dishonourable end to her teaching career. This influences her growing sense of responsibility for Kim, as well as her concerns over Ellice and Frank’s parenting skills.

Duigan captures Thea’s voice brilliantly, clinging to very proper phrasing and anachronistic expressions, her bitterness the preservative that keeps her out of time. In effect her slow thaw due to Kim, her comparing of Frank to the mysterious Matthew from years ago, and the increasing use of personal insights in her writing, are all signs that Thea is slowly but surely building up to a single, climactic act.

The Precipice is a strongly observed and insightful novel, from this very gifted author.

With thanks to Random House for this review copy.

She tried to call Conor once she left the store, but all she got was a cheery robot directing her to leave a message: he hadn’t even bothered to put his own voice into the system. She told him that he should wake up, she was on her way home right now, and understood what a pointless message it was as soon as she finished speaking. Her voice seemed to echo back at her and she imagined some vast warehouse where they stored all such unwanted messages, a black space filled with the ceaseless murmur of unheeded questions and complaints and pleas.

I have had the beginnings of an idea for a yarn tickling the back of my mind for days now. It is frustrating me because I feel this flush of resentment that so much of my time is occupied by reading and writing for this blog instead of working on my own ideas – until of course the realization hits that this blog is the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of sticking to a writing routine. I am exposing myself to authors I never would have read before, becoming inspired by the constant immersion in stories that rest outside my comfort zone of reading material.

I have to remind myself just how lucky I am.

Security is one of those modern novels that introduces a number of different protagonists to the reader and then interweaves their stories, building to an eventual climax where they all cross paths.  Amidon includes a number of scenes in a creative writing class, where the students debate the value of ‘truth’, in a memoir. I was reminded of Todd Solondz‘s Storytelling which also features a creative writing class where truth is an early fatality in the quest for shock value, the real meat and potatoes of non-fiction confessionals.

Edward Inman is a solid, well-intentioned family man who runs a security company in the progressive college town of Stoneleigh. Suffering from recurring bouts of sleep deprivation he finds himself driving late at night instead of sleeping in his own home. His relationship with his wife Meg has cooled and his work excuses him from the marriage bed. Early one morning he passes the son of a former flame, staggering drunkenly home. He gives the boy a lift to his home and upon meeting Connor’s mother Katherine wonders whether his calm and ordered life took a wrong turn.

Katherine herself is at her wits end with her increasingly silent and feckless dropout son. Connor never tells her where he goes at night, sleeps off his drunk during the day and becomes aggressive when she asks him to find work. She is tired of being a mother to a young man who treats her with so little respect. Katherine remembers how she used to have passion and dreams before her spirit was crushed.

Angela is a college student secretly having an affair with her writing instructor Stuart. She shares the class with Mary Steckl, daughter of the town drunk who was accused by Meg Inman of indecent exposure. What began as a police complaint led to Meg’s growing political career, inspired by the charges against Steckl being dropped. Mary has had to live with the reputation of her father ever since. She is vulnerable and isolated, with only Angela feeling the smallest measure of sympathy for her in the classroom pecking order.

When a young woman is assaulted, the perception of Stoneleigh as a safe town is finally shattered. Accusations are levelled and paranoia runs rampant. The debate started by Mary Steckl in the writing class is shown to be a microcosm for the concerns of the town at large – discover the truth, or invent a lie salacious enough to entertain the mob.

Stephen Amidon‘s story has a light Ballardian touch, showing how the close-knit lives of this small community exist in isolation from one another courtesy of technology. The structure of the family unit itself is at stake, with the ambiguous climax symbolically representing the threat posed to it. Thematically the book addresses the compulsive need in modern society to protect families from the outside world, even at the expense of any real engagement with others.

Amidon perfectly captures the uses of fear in political discourse, as well as the fragility of the family structure itself. The story is gripping with the competing narrative strands woven together convincingly.


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