In this aptly named debut novel by twenty five year old Eliza Henry Jones, Cate watches her husband, children, family and friends deal with her death. She has no sense of time, she has to guess based on the weather, or what they’re wearing.
There is much quiet in the profound grief they all endure in different ways, coming in waves.
At the start of the book her twins Cameron and Rafferty are sixteen and daughter Jessa is thirteen.
She describes husband Bass’s grief as ‘almost something solid. I want to speak to him, but all I have is seeing and hearing’.
‘Jessa and Rafferty both have a hardness in them. Something Bass calls gut and I call the quiet. Bass too has the quiet’.
She tries ‘not to notice the great hole that opens up in me as people step into the absence I’ve left behind’. Her sister Bea does the shopping because Cate used to. There are little things she wishes she had taught them when she was alive.
‘Grief … is something you think you understand once you have seen its colours, its shapes. But the thing about grief is that it is forever changing. A swell, subsiding. The waves, their curl and height and depth, each different’.
She realises ‘the saddest people are the ones who never cry. … The sadness never goes anywhere if you don’t cry’.
The quiet is a constant. When Jessa goes to the counsellor. They don’t talk about how Cate died – ‘they’re all so silent’. Horse Opal is missing and Jessa and Henry look for her. Henry finds her, in the quiet. Cate stays quiet when she should open up. The unsaid left hanging in conversations. Secrets ‘crawl into you. Into the deep places you can’t reach. They take a hold. Are insidious’.
Cate wants to yell at them and get them to talk. ‘There is so little speaking’.
To distract themselves they all have their ‘thing’. Rafferty his music, Cameron his running and Jessa the horses. Bass’s friend Steve asks him ‘What’s your thing? Now?’ and Bass doesn’t know. Cate was his thing and now she’s gone.
They keep doing things because it’s what Cate would have done, the wholesome organic things, like picking the slugs off the cabbages they’re growing in the garden, Bass not wanting to get a loan because Cate hated them.
Bea goes to watch Rafferty play at a gig and cries because he is so good. She wonder if Cate ever heard him play like this, as Cate is watching and thinking she never has.
Bass’s grief is followed by panic and then exhaustion, but then realises he needs the kids as much as they need him. Their love was so solid, so strong. When Cate, in her exhausted state after the twins were born, got mad and threw a plastic mug at Bass, he just said ‘least it wasn’t a mallet’. Their relationship did shift after kids, but she still ‘missed him when he went out of a room. That’s what never changed’.
There is a sub plot of Sylvia, who was Cate’s friend. Then she befriended Sylvia’s sister Laura when she moves to Garras. Laura now cares for Sylvia’s son Henry when Sylvia is ‘not well’. Cate lost touch with Sylvia, didn’t notice the erratic behaviour before. It looks at mental illness and how it affects people and those around them. Laura says of Sylvia, ‘I always thought my way of coping was better. … But now, I dunno. We’re all just doing the best we can. I don’t think there’s better or worse. There just is’.
But ultimately it is about Cate, where watching them is both joyful and agonising. That they find ‘joy without me brings me such peace. … But it breaks me apart too. Breaks me open’.
This is an incredibly tender and moving story, which as a mother, partner, sister and friend, had me in tears. Get yourself a copy and a box of tissues.