Echolalia (Briohny Doyle, Vintage)
Echolalia, Briohny Doyle’s skilful second novel, concerns a family on the verge of disintegration. Skipping elegantly between chapters set before and after a traumatic event that changes the family irrevocably, it explores not only the aftermath of the event in question, but also its impetus. When we first meet Emma, her ‘strength, memory [and] enthusiasm for everything’ is diminishing in the aftermath of the traumatic birth of her third child. Completely unsupported by her husband Robert, who comes from a family of wealthy developers, Emma is raising her children more or less on her own. She has a deep bond with their second child Arthur, who’s autistic, and it’s from his echolalia—a term given to the way autistic people sometimes repeat words and phrases, often to the confusion or outright hostility of non-autistic interlocutors—that the book takes its title. And indeed, it’s with hostility and suspicion that the rest of Emma’s family view Arthur, who couldn’t be more different from Robbie, the golden child for whom they’re already imagining a happy and fulfilling future. Echolalia is an ambitious book, tackling the enormous impact of trauma and how the lineage of misogyny is passed down through the generations, as well as how climate change ravages a landscape, but Doyle’s assured and empathetic writing is more than up to the task.
Jack Rowland is a writer from Melbourne.