Eliza Henry Jones’s first book In the Quiet was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Her second, Ache, has just been released and she is still in her twenties. The follow up book to a successful debut can be challenging but she has pulled it off.
Annie is recovering from her escape from the bushfires, down from the mountain on horseback, with her six-year-old daughter, Pip. Her grandmother died at the time, and she returns to her childhood home where her mother still lives, to try and work through the trauma, for herself and for Pip. She leaves husband Tom behind in their city home, stretching their already strained relationship.
The impact of the fires on the community is portrayed so well, reflecting the author’s background in psychology. Pip is acting out, wants to be called Phillip, wetting her bed and won’t let go of a scarf she keeps wrapped around her. Annie is sleep-walking and sleep-drawing and ‘hasn’t stopped running’.
Her mother, Susan, drinks and dances on tables at local functions. Uncle Len holds it all in and searches for illusive lyrebirds. Members of the local town are interesting secondary characters, dealing with it all in their own ways.
They are all damaged, and keep punishing each other for things they haven’t done, paying penance for things they have done. They are like chickens that are ‘so scared of being easy prey for predators, or the flock turning on them they’ll pretend they’re well until they can’t anymore’.
The family dynamics were a fascinating layer showing the relationships between mothers and daughters, versus grandmothers and grand-daughters, and the bonds that form in families that may be to an uncle or grandparent rather than a parent. Annie’s desperation to not turn out like her mother was palpable.
Annie’s old boyfriend Alex reappears to assist his ailing mother, and has to deal with his connection to the fires, and Annie’s stirring feelings for him, and his for her.
Through Annie’s eyes we see her association with her home, how it is part of her identity, ‘a bit of her that existed beyond him, beyond them’. The fires have altered everything though, and ‘Annie is so scared that the magic of the place has been changed. Or maybe lost entirely’. Despite this she feel the need to be there.
In rich and evocative writing the unraveling of the trauma and damage is real and true, what they do to get by, showing that ‘there was often a path of unrelated, unpleasant things that had to be followed to get somewhere that you loved’. It is ultimately about grief and resilience, dealing with the crises that the world throws at us, and coming through it.