Heat and Light (Ellen van Neerven, UQP)
Heat and Light is Ellen van Neerven’s debut novel. She was winner of the David Unaipon Award for unpublished Indigenous writing in 2013. It’s a bold and adventurous work, a three-part fictional journey, with two sets of stories bookending a longer middle section. The first, ‘Heat’, introduces us to the Kresinger family across several generations. The stories, set in both rural and urban locations, are at once discrete and connected, through the compelling presence of Pearl, blending traditional narrative with some fictional twists in the tale/tail. The middle section, ‘Water’, is the longest, and is a menacing and surreal vision of a people whose very existence is threatened. In the last section, ‘Light’, stories of connection and disconnection, between and within family and race, challenge and intrigue the reader. I found the futurism of the middle section ‘Water’ less convincing an evocation than the worlds imagined in the stories on either side. It’s in those stories that the writing is at once sharp, edgy and personal, direct and powerful in its honesty and intimacy. The last story ‘Sound’ is particularly compelling and unsettling. This is a very fine debut from a talented writer.
David Gaunt is co-owner of Gleebooks