Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 6, 2014

Springtime, by Michelle de Kretser

SpringtimeI liked this playful little book.  Mildly provocatively, it plays up the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry, and it subverts its own genre.  It’s cunningly constructed so that the reader finds herself bemused and amused.

It’s very short, only 85 pages, and beautifully presented in hardcover with an elegant dust-jacket.  There are exquisite colour plates of ethereal flowers interleaved amongst the pages, the colour scheme contained to the soft brown and black of the dust-jacket.  The photographs are by Torkil Gudnason, and the design is by Sandy Cull from gogoGinko.

This gorgeousness is, of course, intended for the Christmas gift market,  a slim book easily slipped into Christmas stockings and priced just right for Kris Kringle.  But lucky recipients unfamiliar with de Kretser’s writing will find themselves surprised if they expect a conventional ghost story.  As one of the guests at a dinner party says:

‘Ghost stories work up to a shock, but the modern form of the short story is different. When a loose, open kind of story came in, writing about ghosts went out’.

But Frances is surrounded by ghosts, not the least of which is the ghost of Melbourne, the city she belongs in and has uprooted herself from.  She has fallen in love with an older, married man with a child, and like children they have run away to Sydney together.  After Melbourne’s graceful neatness, she finds a sense of chaos in Sydney when the streets ran everywhere like something spilled.  By coincidence I have been reading about city architecture in The Guardian and this sly comment made me think about whether the shape of our cities actually influences the way we see the world.  If you build a city around a massive harbour it can’t have a boulevard like St Kilda Road, but are we too neat here in Melbourne?  Excessive orderliness is what made me dislike Berlin so much.

Frances finds that her Melbourne Black fades in the harsh Sydney sun, mirroring the way she is fading along with her certainties about the new relationship.   She finds that ex-wives who make bitter phone calls and a partner’s child who is entitled to access are not so easily jettisoned, even when the visits are fleeting.  De Kretser also skilfully captures that awful moment when one discovers  in The Beloved some ghostly trace of a relation of whom one is less than fond.

The apparition which gives the novella its name is playful.  Frances is disoriented and her sense of strangeness in a new city is so palpable that the reader, even one open to fantasies of phantasms, never entertains the idea that there is a real ghost.  It is what happens when she makes it real by talking about it and confronting it that makes this clever little book so thought-provoking.

Author: Michelle de Kretser
Title: Springtime, a Ghost Story
Publisher: Allen and Unwin 2014
ISBN: 9781760111212
Source: Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin

Availability

Fishpond: Springtime: A Ghost Story


Responses

  1. I really like the sound of this, but it’ll have to wait as I’m trying to focus on my tbr at the mo. I keep hearing great things about de Krester.

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    • Yes, I’m trying to make a bit of a dent in mine too.

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  2. Next on my pile, Lisa. Sounds interesting. :-)

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    • Ah, Amanda, I do look forward to seeing what you think of it. I can’t think of your books without a sense of wild, untameable places where humans are small creatures of courage in timeless landscapes that are indifferent to them. Springtime is entirely urban, completely contemporary.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds interesting and short! I have a copy of her book Question of Travel given to me by a friend who could not get into it. We have laughed as I tried to read it also but wasn’t in the mood. It goes back and forth between us and one of us will read it one day. Quite funny really. Waiting for the mood to hit. Maybe an 85 page book by her would introduce us to her style first. Such dilemmas. Haha Enjoyed this post.

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    • Oh, I know what you mean. Sometimes long books just sit on my shelf looking accusingly at me, as if to say, you know my author, you know this is going to be good, just get on with it …but then the sheer size and weight of it puts me off.
      And then the problem is conpounded if the book takes its own sweet time to lure me in. I remember this happening with AQOT, but by the time I wrote my review I had fallen in love with it and was besotted by it.

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  4. Have been wondering about this book that suddenly seemed to pop out of nowhere. Hope to get to it soon, as I do like her writing, but …

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    • I know, I know, and it’s always worse at this time of the year when the papers are full of best books and you discover some you’d missed, and you know you mustn’t because there are so many unread, but still…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Lisa; that’s a lovely description of what I aim to do!

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  6. You know, I enjoyed this but in a funny way it made me think less of de Kretser.It made me very aware of her characteristic tone of voice. It seemed to make her more ordinary. I have been reading Ceridwen Dovey’s “Only the animals” and it did make me reflect on the safeness of many other writers. I felt this way about Springtime.

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    • Um, yes, I know what you mean… I think this book is aimed at a more commercial market, especially the Sydney market.
      Compared to Patrick Holland’s Navigatio, which is just so special, and yet risky too, it’s more ordinary.
      OTOH if it brings some readers to try her writing that’s a good thing.

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      • I haven’t read Navigatio…will look for it.

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