Friday, July 30, 2010

Book of Lost Threads

Book of Lost Threads by Tess Evans

Reviewed by Jennifer Levitt

What’s in a name? In this remarkable debut novel dealing with family ties and unique friendships, Tess Evans’s Book of Lost Threads highlights the intrinsic role nomenclature play in finding identity, escaping the past and shaping a future. It delivers something very personal that has the reader reflecting on their own relationships and the mistakes we all make on the bumpy road of life. Evans’s experience with a wide range of people in her years as an educator and counsellor is evident in the compassionate treatment of her characters, each of whom, though suffering great heartache, is touched by the kindness, and sometime meddling, of others.

Moss (Miranda Ophelia Sinclair) has left Melbourne in search of a man she knows only by the name of Michael Finbar Clancy. The path leads to a small rural town by the name of Opportunity, a town that had once enjoyed the spoils of a gold rush long past and now survives minimally on the modest income of a farming community. It is here that Moss learns a lot about life, becoming an adult and the painful truth about a parent’s love.

On locating Michael, or rather Finn as he has become known, Moss is confronted by her own past while inadvertently picking the scab from some of Finn’s old wounds. His secrets reveal a brilliant mind tormented by the tragic consequences of an affair gone wrong. His struggle to locate the family of a deceased prostitute leads to dead ends and personal despair. While Moss attempts to repair her unconventional family torn apart by misconceptions and resent she positions Finn to question himself once more.

The unlikely friendships that develop with Moss and Finn are a pleasure read. Mrs Pargetter the eccentric elderly neighbour who knits tea cosies for the United Nations and has a letter from the Quartermaster to prove it, generously takes Moss under her wing and into her home. While Mrs Pargetter’s nephew Sandy, another a perplexing character, struggles to gain his aunt’s approval and plans to erect a giant Galah as a monument to his late father, an idea causing great vexation and protest among the town’s residents. As they advance, these relationships convey a certain faith in human kind. Evans seems to be suggesting that given a chance, each of us has something to offer the community and that we must first just take time to listen to each other.

He had to steel himself, but there he was the next day standing sheepishly on his aunt’s doorstep, a lemon pie balanced in his hand. He knew that if he left it any longer, he would never have the courage to return to his aunt’s house. The Major wouldn’t have recognised this as courageous- there are no Distinguished Service Orders for acts of moral courage- but Mrs Pargetter realised what it must have cost him. (226)

Above all else this is a story about mothers. Our relationships with the ones we have, their relationships with us and the challenges we all face in demonstrating our love for each other. Evans touches on painful issues of grief and lost children. It is the presence of Mrs Pargetter’s late child who hovers within her home that touches readers and foregrounds the permanence of the intense pain associated with the loss of a child. It is an indisputable fact that parenthood is the most challenging job anyone could undertake and this novel truly demonstrates just how difficult it is to get it right.

This said, Evans offers hope and the possibility of light in a challenging world. This is a tender and clever study of the family unit in a variety of combinations. Her writing is insightful and refreshing. What’s in a name? Everything! Tess Evans, an exciting new name in Australian literature.

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