Absence by Joanna King – 2016

absenceSometimes you pick a novel up at just the right time – after a string of adrenaline reads and rich historical dramas I was in the right mood for Joanna King’s debut novel; an introspective piece about what it is that influences our relationships, our reactions to other people and our views on gender politics.  Is it our childhood experience of a happy / unhappy family?  Our first sexual encounter?  Our position vis a vis other siblings – youngest child / oldest child?  Do we ever know others, even those very close to us?  Do we even know ourselves enough to predict our actions or re-actions?  Or do we only catch glimpses of ourselves or others in moments of crisis – much as the narrator keeps catching glimpses of herself and others in mirrors or darkened windows?  Four sisters, one accompanied by her husband, are on holiday in a little village in Italy.  When one of the sisters doesn’t arrive for a planned dinner the anxieties round her non-appearance play out to expose the tensions between the siblings.  Told from the point of view of the youngest daughter, Absence takes a leisurely stroll through the human condition of social relationships through time: The village is situated beneath an ancient site of fertility worship, it is suggested ancient bacchanalian festivals might have been a societal solution to male infertility, one of the sisters is working up an idea for a film about Lucrezia Borgia… Each sister is in a different type of relationship with a man – and there is the constant re-hashing of what their parents’ break-up has done to their mother, their father, and to the daughters.  We are intimately within the dynamics of the characters – when the narrator does finally make a decision about her own relationship the text starts to trip up and stutter before gaining equilibrium and perspective on her choice.  I found it not a perfect read – but definitely an absorbing one.


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