I say: I am a very lucky girl. I’m crying hard and kissing him. I say: I know how lucky I am. He doesn’t flinch, just sighs contentedly in his sleep. I know he can hear me. People can hear you in their sleep. I talk to Mum all the time. I tell her all the things I can’t say when she’s awake, staring at me with her eyes full of grey. The Earth Does Not Get Fat, Julia Prendergast
Our fourth book choice at The Introverted Book Club turned an eye towards Australian fiction. I will admit, since moving to Australia 2 years ago I have attempted to read a number of Australian fiction books without much success at finding something I enjoyed. Not wanting to admit defeat, I remained certain that there was an Aussie author out there for me.
Julia Prendergast - or at least her debut novel - was definitely not the one.
The story follows the narrative of Chelsea. A down and out teenager who has sadly fallen victim to her inherited lot in life. Despite this her grit, acceptance, and capacity to take on the challenges of her daily strife is admirable. She is a strong character and Prendergast does a wonderful job of building her as someone you can feel for. The description of Chelsea caring for her Grandfather with Dementia is very powerful. The right amount of detail creates a very realistic portrayal that I feel many carers could relate to.
Unfortunately, realism goes out the window after this as Prendergast goes on to create sordid, heavily stereotyped and under-developed characters, all of whom made me sad and angry for all the wrong reasons.
Chelsea's narrative not only gets swallowed up but is ultimately stomped all over as Prendergast switches to the viewpoints of another character - 'Pelt' - and then, after an extremely miraculous recovery from a decade of addiction, depression and anorexia - Chelsea's mother. The trauma experienced by the mother is unrelenting. As a character who has spent the first half of the novel unable to move from her dark bedroom, listless, drugged up, and smothered in her own filth, her telling of events comes unexpectedly, graphically and rather unbelievably. It's difficult to tell more without giving away the story but rather than stick to one life-altering event (which would have been enough) Prendergast - for an entirely unknown reason - felt the need to pile on the trauma thick and fast to the character. For me as the reader, it felt cheap and exploitative.
There were many avenues this book could have pursued that may have offered a more interesting examination of the events and characters. A redemption for Chelsea? The capacity of human care (the caregiver who identifies a child in need and steps in was a worthy but under-utilised character). Or how Chelsea might come to terms with the traumatising fact that her mother didn't give a damn about her for the past decade, but made a miraculous 3-day recovery under the care of Pelts? Instead, Prendergast takes a disappointingly trashy route.
I've seen the writing described as 'edgy' and 'gritty' and 'gut-wrenching'.
It is not.
What it is, is another tally in my notebook for the lacklustre offerings of Australian fiction.
Read Kat's perfectly concise review here.
I also highly recommend reading Kit De Waals article for The Guardian on the exclusiveness of the publishing industry.
While I didn't find the themes too intense, others may find this book triggering and upsetting.
The Introverted Book Club is a monthly bookish meet up, to discuss one book of choice over coffee. Our preferred themes are around emotional health, psychology, and writers from non-western backgrounds.