Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

Plots and Plotting

Cambridge University Botanic GardenJust got back from a trip to Europe. Spent the last few days in Cambridge, England. My photos reflect the cool gray rain-filled skies. My novel, Lipstick On The Strawberry, is set partly in Cambridge. There’s a scene in the beautiful Cambridge University Botanic Garden. As I walked that garden the other day, I thought, a good novel is like a well-planned garden. No wonder the word “plot” is used for both books and gardens. In the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, gravel and woodchip paths wind past a pond, rock gardens, formal lawns and beds of flowers in full bloom. Trees, strategically planted, obscure the planting beds around corners, drawing the visitor forward to see what is around the bend. That’s what I hope readers will do with my novel – turn the page to see what happens next!

The Grass Castle

By Karen Viggers Allen & Unwin, 2015 This is the second novel by Karen Viggers reviewed in these pages. I have not met Karen, but she is the neighbor of my sister-in- law, Philippa, who told me about her remarkable books. She’s an author who deserves wider recognition. As in her previous novel, The Lightkeeper’s Wife, the Australian countryside becomes a character in itself in this book. Most Australians are city folk, but Karen Viggers grew up in the cool, forested mountains. There, she says in her acknowledgements, she roamed freely on her little pony. A veterinarian, she imbues her writing with her unsentimental knowledge of the natural world. The novel starts with the killing of a kangaroo. The animal is hit by a car, but Abby, a graduate student studying the species, must finish it off. This vivid opening scene sets up a theme of the book. Kangaroos lack predators now that aboriginal boomerangs no longer bring them down. The ecological balance in which the hunters held the land is upset and the animals overgraze the land, particularly in a drought. Should they be culled? The interplay between nature and science, between a holistic view of the world and the individualistic one of modern society is explored here through Abby and her friendship with Daphne, an elderly woman. As in The Lightkeeper’s Wife, Karen Viggers creates two central characters, one an older woman, and one a younger person who has trouble with romantic relationships, or with relationships in general. Abby, prickly, lonely, intelligent, is pursued by Cameron, a journalist, but the events of her family life haunt her, and only through Daphne’s loving friendship can she confront them and heal. This is a book that goes far beyond a woman’s individual journey. This is also a book about ideas. Endlessly topical conflicts about animal rights vs. human needs, country vs. city, gun ownership and the right/need to hunt, all these are shown here in dialogue, and the reader wants to join in the conversation. This is a very good book. I look forward to reading more of Karen Vigger’s work.