Harper Collins AUS
Copy courtesy of the author
Mema lives a sheltered life, at home with her mother in a remote cottage deep in bushland. Homeschooled, Mema has rarely ventured beyond the farm, making only brief journeys to the small town nearby and the markets where she and her mother sell their pots.
During heavy summer floods Mema is out tending to a cow who is about to give birth when she sees a car washed off a bridge and into the creek. Thinking quickly, she is able to encourage the driver to smash the window and she helps him get to shore by extending a large branch for him to hold onto. Mema takes him home as there is no where else for him to go. Hamish, an environmental consultant from the city is a fish out of water in the small cottage which loses power in heavy storms, that doesn’t have a computer or the internet.
Hamish has to stay at the cottage with Mema and her mother until the waters recede and he can get to the nearby town. Mema shows him what her life involves – bodyboarding down the swollen creek, exploring the local bush and running in the rain. Sheltered as she has been, Mema has never really spent much time with a man before and he opens up a whole new world of feeling and intrigue for her.
In the last four years, I’ve reviewed a lot of books. Sometimes the words come easy, sometimes I have to coax them. The reasons for the writers block can be varied but I honestly think this is probably the first time I haven’t really known what to write because the book is so beautifully written and I’m not sure how to convey that accurately. It’s now almost two weeks since I read this book, having come down with the flu the day after I finished it. I normally like to write the review as close to finishing the book as possible, so everything is fresh in my mind. However perhaps with this book, time to reflect on it and mull it over in my mind is a bonus, rather than a disadvantage.
Mema is a truly unique character, sheltered from the outside world in many ways. She spends most of her time at her family’s isolated cabin where there’s no television and no computer. Mema’s mother earns just enough money for them to survive by selling the clay pots she makes and Mema contributes too, making mugs and smaller items to sell at markets. There’s an innocence to Mema that’s so utterly charming, she has a really interesting way of looking at nature and the environment. Her surroundings are precious to her and she has love for everything that makes up nature, even the ugly parts that no one else cares for, such as cane toads which are known pests. Seeing the world through Mema’s eyes was somewhat of a revelation as she takes the time to really see and experience what is happening around her. She takes pleasure from the simplest things – running as fast as she can manage in the rain, body boarding down the creek swollen in the floods. Her childlike enthusiasm and wonder is infectious and city boy Hamish finds himself rather swayed by her even as he doesn’t really understand her.
If this book was a romance, Hamish would turn his back on his city life and live happily ever after in the bush with Mema, building them a cabin or something. But that isn’t the way this story unfolds – there’s much more realism in this story. Hamish is trapped with Mema’s family and he is intrigued by her but at the same time it is quite obvious that Mema is innocent in so many ways, not used to men at all. Mema, although aware of her own ability to self-pleasure, has never connected this to another person before and the arrival of Hamish triggers her sexual awakening and feelings involving other people, wanting to be with another person in a way that she hasn’t before. Mema isn’t unaware of sex and she’s certainly aware of her own mother’s reputation surrounding it, but it’s not something that she seems to have ever been interested in for herself, before Hamish.
It’s hard to accurately describe how vivid the writing is in this novel. Every nuance of the bush is so easy to picture – I experienced running in the rain, the bodyboarding down the creek, even Mema pulling Hamish to safety and then searching for the cow had calved, like I was there myself. Mema’s small cabin that she shares with her mother and occasionally her sister and her sister’s two children is wonderfully depicted, right down the the occupants that occasionally invade the shower and freak Hamish out so much. Mema’s friendship with the troubled Anja is full of an unexpected depth and intrigue. I felt a real connection to Mema and her observations about life – she has older brothers who have all left home, some of which they no longer even hear from anymore and yet Mema remains, not quite ready to leave the nest. The world beyond doesn’t seem to interest her as much as her own surroundings do. Hamish shakes her comfortable existence, offers new experiences and feelings and paves the way toward a new future.
I read Jessie Cole’s first novel, Darkness On The Edge Of Town and was impressed by it but this novel showcases her evolution and advancement as a writer. It’s the sort of book that you wish went a bit longer, just so you could keep reading it and experiencing it.
Book #163 of 2014
Deeper Water is book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014
Check out the book trailer for Deeper Water here: