When I first saw the cover of this novel by Stephanie Bishop, I immediately thought of fairy floss. Look at those floating clouds surrounded by shades of pink and blue, and the upside-down silhouette of two running kids that resemble innocence and sweetness. It was hard not to relate the cover to an imaginary heartwarming plot with animated characters.
The story unfolds as our protagonist, Charlotte, fumbles her way home from the hospital, only to discover that she is three months pregnant with her and Henry’s second child. She starts to have difficulties dealing with life as a mother and wife. Henry, having hated the English weather, decides it is best for them to emigrate to the other side of the world. Charlotte is totally against the idea but during a weak moment, gives in. As they arrive in Perth, the imaginary warmth of Australian summer turns out to be sand, heat and interminable travel queues.
Bishop’s writing is truly distinct something that her use of good old-fashioned character names contributes to. Several journals and publishers describe it as ‘poetic’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘atmospheric’. Between each line, you can feel the words breathe in and out:
“The land flat at first, all horizon, while the wind buffets, pushing them into the day, then the light breaking as they reach the top of the hill. She is closest to the sky then, the blue-grey air cascading down either side of the slope.”
Nonetheless, the story cannot get away with its non-fairy-floss-like blandness. It almost entirely talks about Charlotte’s failure to adapt to the new lifestyle and attempt to keep herself sane. I was hoping to see some character development, but it seems like Charlotte is stagnate in homesickness and depression. She thinks, thinks and thinks, giving Bishop every opportunity to talk about her emotions rather than describe physical action to push the plot further:
“Charlotte doesn’t reply. The pot is broken. It can be fixed. What more is there to say?”
“She remembers living amid this mud and grass and feeling that all the world was held at bay, fields away from her.”
Okay, maybe it’s not too bad yet to understand our character deeply. But the lack of conversation in this book really kills me. You start a page with bulky descriptive paragraphs, and they can go on for ten pages.
All I can say is if you’re a passionate reader, this book is not the best option for you. It is way too tender and tranquil. Before reading I expected to get a sip of tropical juice, but all I got was water. Plain, calm, missing a savoury taste, and perhaps only enjoyed by those who identify with Charlotte with water-like nostalgia.