The Brennan family (Finn, Bridget and sons Jarrah and Toby) have recently moved from Hobart to Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales. While it’s a joint decision to leave Hobart, to make a new start, Finn has some regrets. His wife, Bridget has secured a new job, and Finn is an artist who works from home. He has just been asked to submit a piece to an outside sculpture show. A new routine is needed, if Finn is to meet the deadline required. Jarrah is in his teens, but Toby is only two and a half.
The purple weatherboard house the Brennans bought in Murwillumbah has an outdoor pool, and the family use it often. How else can a family from Hobart manage to adapt to the heat and humidity of northern New South Wales?
And then tragedy strikes. Toby drowns. In sixty seconds a family is fractured. Guilt and grief overwhelm each of the surviving members of the family. The past is revisited, the present is frozen, any future appears unattainable. How did Toby get into the pool? Everyone is looking for explanations, for an explanation.
In this novel, Jesse Blackadder takes the reader deep into each family member’s reaction to Toby’s death. At a time when they need each other, Bridget and Finn retreat into their own grief. And Jarrah has to try to negotiate his own difficult world without much assistance from either parent.
My words cannot do justice to how Ms Blackadder makes each of these characters so real. Bridget’s rage, Finn’s attempt to protect, Jarrah’s search for self: each struggle felt so real to me. Add in the police investigation, the public scrutiny, the other issues that families deal with. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering how I would react in such circumstances. Short chapters deliver the reactions of Finn, Jarrah and Bridget. Switching between characters provides the reader with a momentary breathing space, to try to make sense of each character’s views and enables the story to move forward. Because life (for the survivors) does go on. Eventually.
In her Author’s Note, Jesse Blackadder writes: ‘It took more than forty years to write this book. Forty years to understand my own sister’s death and how it shaped my life, and nearly two to write a fictional story about a family facing a tragedy in some ways like mine.’ Thank you, for putting into words, some of the aspects of such a devastating tragedy. For moving beyond loss and blame, for reminding us of vulnerability, and for introducing the prospect of forgiveness.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.