UQP, Australia, 2021
Cover design by Sandy Cull, gogoGingko; cover artwork by Sarah Jarrett
Professor Gail Jones’ front cover endorsement of Lucy Neave’s Believe in Me describes it as ‘astute, tender and wise’. Spot on.
Lucy Neave demonstrates a finely tuned capacity to draw us into not merely the story but also the inner worlds and societal atmospheres of the times and places of her telling. We feel acutely the stifling confinement, the sense of loss and abandonment of the lives of the three women whose story this is.
The conceit is that it is a telling of the narrator’s mother’s life seen through her own, an effort to ‘inhabit the consciousness’ of her parent by piecing together what she knows, what she is told and what she deduces from observation – all this to understand herself better.
Bet (Bethany) tells her mother Sarah’s story – Sarah whose life is a strange mix of duty and determination, of love and disappointment, faith and despair. Sarah is sent from her home in Poughkeepsie in NY State to accompany a preacher on a travelling mission to Idaho, becomes pregnant and ends up in a home for unmarried mothers in Sydney in the early seventies.
At the outset we are sucked into the confused mesh of Sarah’s mind, pulled between religion, ego, family duty, belief and betrayal. She’s come from small town America, from a background in a tight sect where obedience is all and yet she is graced with her own desires and a will to be free and find her own nature. Society conspires against this – partly a product of the times, the seventies, partly of her individual circumstances.
Her daughter, the storyteller, inherits much of this duality, despite the different times and opportunities. She cannot always fathom her mother’s behaviour but neither can she manage her own. The tendrils of abandonment and loss, the sense of being loveless, hold tight until the last part of this story.
It’s so much about the nature of love. The author refers to the ‘feathery brush of Sarah’s love’, there but not always within grasp. As narrator Bet she says, ‘Because what are we, if not the persistence, the duration of love itself?’ Love is learnt and it seems, in the end, that baggage can be dropped over the side of a boat. There is hope in this.
This is such finely written fiction, cleverly immersing us in the minds of its women and their painful spaces and silences, the impenetrable mysteries of their pasts, the rolling down of loss from grandmother to mother to child.
Lucy Neave has written us into the world of Poughkeepsie, Idaho, Sydney and Adelaide in the seventies and beyond, forward and back. She evocatively conjures landscapes both geographical and human – it’s such a pleasure to read work like this, which honours each word and phrase and uses them so precisely to craft a compassionate story.
There’s also an emotional spareness here that is the mark of a writer who gives her readers credit for perception. I hope more follows soon from this author.
Thank you UQP and Lucy Neave for my review copy, and Lucy for chatting with me about your work.