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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.

While she’s in the toilet

I check out her books,

On the shelf

thick books

fresh-smelling paper

academic stuff.

A muddle of novels

by the bed

French and South American

no thrillers, no crap.

Detective novels have a fairly set format. This is why they can be dismissed in such an offhand manner by critics on occasion. They are the definition of formulaic, and no amount of true life mysteries, vampires, sf future noir settings or even Hippo detectives can change that. The stories all begin to look the same from a certain remove. So Dorothy Porter’s solution is to write her detective tale entirely in verse!

Jill is an ex-cop who has moved into private investigation. Living out in the Blue Mountains she just barely manages to pay her bills, but she likes the quiet life. Eventually Jill’s finances force her to take on a missing person case. Nineteen year old Mickey Norris is a poetry-loving student, just another shy girl with ambitions of finding a patron and fame. Her parents are worried, but Jill reckons it will be a simple case. She travels to the college Mickey attends and questions her friends about her lifestyle. They all give the same report. Mickey was a quiet, retiring nondescript sort, who had recently discovered poetry.

Then Jill meets Mickey’s tutor Diana, who proves to be something of a distraction from the case. Married to an ambitious legal eagle Nick, she seems way out of the world weary private eye’s league, but surprisingly the two begin a torrid affair. Jill enters Diana’s more refined world of academic scandals and hobnobbing at book launches, feeling out of place and even slightly vulgar. Is this nothing more than a silly fling for Diana? Jill’s feelings continue to grow until she loses all perspective on the case. Then the police find Mickey’s body.

Detectives deal in simple, hard facts. Detective stories must contend with the dry, logical structure of deduction and the prose employed in these tales reflect that. Porter’s story opts for slippery free verse, embracing an Otherness in keeping with its lesbian protagonist to set it apart from plodding flatfoots and shamuses.

Porter also is having quite a lot of fun at the expense of ligging poets and pretentious artists. By adopting the standard plot of a detective novel, with the hero descending into a criminal world to avenge the death of an innocent, the literary scene is transformed into hellish trap for the young and beautiful, exploited by the corrupt and venal.

It is a funny little joke and Porter’s erotic content adds a frisson of excitement to the proceedings. Overall though I found the book a bit too cool, too detached. This is an assembled satire that lacks the necessary earthy punch of the best kind of mockery. Still worth a gander though.

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