Look. I’m disappointed. Disappointed because Wintering is not An Uncertain Grace. Just bog standard Australian (ok Tasmanian) Gothic. Well done. But not my cup of tea.
I’ll leave it to Tasweigans to decide if non-Tasmanians should write Tasmanian Gothic. Now there’s a problematic sentence. I believe very strongly both that writers should be able to write and publish whatever they like, and that writers should not tell (‘appropriate’) other people’s stories – because it is often an assertion of power, ‘mansplaining’ for instance, and because we as readers may be entertained but we don’t learn much.
Kimbofo, a woman, has just posted a heartfelt review of Colm Tóibín’s debut novel, The South, “a luminous tale of art and love and sacrifice set in Spain and Ireland in the 1950s and 60s” in which the protagonist is a woman. Kim writes, “there’s no other (living) male writer that can write women as well as Tóibín, he really knows what makes us tick.” (Reading Matters here). How can I argue against that! And yet I do.
Sorry, I got carried away. Appropriation has been on my mind. Nearly all of you will assert that Krissy Kneen is perfectly entitled to explore Tasmania with her father, then write a fiction set there. She certainly gets the atmospherics ‘right’ (I haven’t been there, so what should I say? Her dense, mountainous temperate rainforest accords with what I know/have experienced).
In Wintering both the speculative and the erotic elements are ratcheted down compared with An Uncertain Grace. Wintering‘s thesis is fantasy rather than SF – in the European gothic, werewolf tradition. I don’t think, I hope she wasn’t, implying a connection with Aboriginal spirit stories.
The story is told in the third person entirely from the perspective of Jessica, a PhD student from the mainland who has settled down with a local guy her own age, a shift worker on a salmon farm, uneducated, but into difficult books, while she studies glow worms in a remote cave system and makes pin money as a tour guide in those caves open to the public.
Matthew, her guy, is controlling, and somewhere between rough and violent. In four years she has permitted him to stop her from meeting any locals in the town where he grew up, mistakes his control for love, makes excuses, all the usual stuff… This relationship is not convincing. Not just because it’s difficult to see what’s in it for Jessica, but because almost as soon as Matthew goes missing, she both mourns him and starts falling for his best mate (whom she has never met before).
Matthew fails to come home from work one night and his car is found abandoned on the road up to their isolated house. He has been filming his drive home, not with a dashcam but with his iphone propped on the dash, driving fast in the dark with his lights off, collides with a barely visible, naked man-sized shape. There is blood on the road but no sign of Matthew.
Jessica begins to venture into town, meets women, at least one of whom is clearly Matthew’s girlfriend, discovers that Matthew is the thirteenth man to go missing in this way. Matthew’s mate, William calls round to offer assistance, comfort. There is an intruder in Jessica’s house (Matthew’s parents’ beach cottage). An animal is strangely killed and abandoned deep in the caves.
The wives and partners of missing men meet. It’s a small town, they all know everything about everyone. One of them has obtained the video from Matthew’s phone (from the local policeman) –
Jessica … heard the hollow sound of wind through the speaker, watched as the women leaned forward, jostling for a better view of the tiny screen, a press of sallow flesh…
Darkness, light, darkness
Jessica suddenly felt guilty, as if it had been her in the car, risking the lives of wallabies and devils*. She pursed her lips. The headlights blaring back on high beam. The animal rearing, the bones glowing pale in the light or the stripes standing out against its dark side, the too-wide mouth.
The official search has found nothing. The women institute their own. At night. With guns.
The resolution comes slowly and with the right amount of tension.
Krissy Kneen, Wintering, Text, Melbourne, 2018
Tasmanian devil: Smallish carnivorous marsupial (here)