I discovered Amanda Curtin’s writing when I stumbled across The Sinkings at the library (see my review) and she immediately became one of those writers whose work I will always look out for. Her new novel, Elemental, is exquisite, so wonderful to read that I am hoarding the reading, spreading it out over as many days as possible because I like it so much.
Old Meggie Tulloch is writing her life story, to give to her grand-daughter, whom she calls ‘lambsie’. It is an astonishing story, from Roanhaven in the rugged north-east of Scotland at the turn of the 20th century, to Fremantle in WA. Her voice is vivid, authentic and strong, but the excerpt below stopped me in my tracks: Amanda Curtin has captured not only the voice of this remarkable old woman, but also her gravest fear:
After what the doctors said, I didn’t think to be finishing what I’d started, but I am a tough one, aye, tougher than ever they thought. Well, they were not to know about the women of Roanhaven, were they? There is much yet to say, and it seems I am to be spared a while more to say it. But churning up the mud of the past, all the bones and stones buried there – is it fair? Some things are best left in the dark. So much sadness. I don’t know.
I will carry on for now, while I can.
But I forget things, you know, lambsie. Kathryn is right: I do. Even more since all that business in hospital. If I tell you a thing once and then tell you again – well, you’ve just to put up with that.
They are different, you know, memory and memories. Memory is the way you know it’s Tuesday or what you ate for dinner last night, or that you’ve already bought a new pair of slippers so whyever would you go to town and buy another pair? But memories are the things that make you who you are, even the ones you are most afraid to look square in the face. And the funny thing is, I am losing my memory but not my memories. If it was the other way round, you’d be getting a kist* full of knitting yarn and last Thursday’s shopping list, which I still canna find.
But will they remain, too, my memories? And will I remember how to write them? I am afraid that words I have loved all my life will be carried away from me like flotsam on the tide.
I must write faster, while I still can, and I must choose, lambsie, choose for you. I canna write it all, I know that now. After I came home from hospital, I made myself this promise: if ever I am well enough to go back to my notebooks, I will not just begin the story from where I left off, what came next, and next after that. No, I will try to write for you the things that matter. And I will try to write them all.
Elemental, by Amanda Curtin, UWAP (University of Western Australia Press), 2013
* A kist is a wooden storage chest for linen. My mother, who speaks Gaelic, always used this word to describe such chests, and I use it still.