Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down
|Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Suicide, loss and coming to terms with the aftermath - a subject that demands discussion. This is novel is the discussion it deserves: a debut demonstrating a lyrical talent and a narrative packed with insight and compassion.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: December 2016|
|Publisher: Text Publishing Company|
|External links: Author's website|
There had always been Katy, Audrey and Adam. They've been friends since school and now, along with Audrey's partner Nick, they remain inseparable as young professionals. Then, one day, Katy kills herself. No warning, no reason just no Katy. The four are suddenly three trying to make sense of a moment that leaves so many questions in a world that refuses to pause while they figure it out.
When Aussie writer Jennifer Down thought about her debut novel, she could have made it easy for herself. Instead she chooses a deep, power packed subject (the suicide of a 20-something) that could repel the average bookshelf browser. Yes, it may be a debut but as her 2014 Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript testifies, she's got the abundant talent to do more than make it work: she makes it compulsive reading.
Indeed, the subject may be tragic but rather than repelled, we're drawn in to the orbit of this group of Melbourne friends. Through flashbacks we spend time with the four of them, getting to know Katy. She was a nurse who had time for each of them, never seeming suicidal. Now the remaining three look to each other for comfort as well as for answers.
A layer of irony is added in that both Audrey (a social worker) and Nick (paramedic) are in caring professions that save people in one form or other on a daily basis. Yet they couldn't save someone who was so close to them.
For Audrey Katy's death becomes the toppling Jenga brick in her life as she realises how much of her world is teetering. Sylvie, Audrey's mother (the widow of an alcoholic) has become more and more reliant on Audrey, using her as the communication channel with Audrey's brother. He's always been a rebel but now he's also experimenting with drugs. Then there's her job…
In Australia, as in the UK, social workers labour under crippling workloads so a personal tragedy can cause a ripple effect, not helped when a case becomes more than just a concern.
As the tale unfolds Jennifer imbues her words and motifs with an almost poetic beauty. The novel's title itself comes from a time before dark and after dawn when photographers deem the light to be so soft, it's perfect. It's also real-life signage on a Melbourne factory, which is no coincidence.
The city plays a huge part in the story, providing a feeling of nostalgia for our own past environs, whether we're Aussie or not. As the characters' lives play out against this backdrop, we realise how great a part locations play in our lives and memories, both happy and sad.
It's glib to say that suicide is a huge problem. In the UK during 2014 alone, nearly 6,600 instances were recorded and yet it remains a taboo subject. Via The Magic Hour Jennifer makes it an accessible talking point and invites us to step into the discussion. Perhaps book clubs will be among the first to accept the invitation but I have a feeling – and a hope – that it's not going to end there. The subject and Jennifer's way with words deserve more.
(Thank you, Text Publishing Company, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you'd like to read further about suicide and the shadow it casts, we recommend Legend of a Suicide by David Vann. If you'd rather just follow Melbourne (the city) based stories, we just as heartily recommend Nine Days by Toni Jordan and another Premier's Award winner The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
You can read more book reviews or buy Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down at Amazon.com.
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