Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 14, 2015

Leap, by Myfanwy Jones #BookReview

LeapI knew this cover reminded me of something!  It’s the tiger, a design by Christabella Designs which is reminiscent of the cover of Fiona McFarlane’s The Night GuestWhat is it about tigers, in the Australian context, I wonder?

(Well, we don’t have any impressive native fauna with the same sense of suppressed violence, I suppose.  Unless you count crocodiles.  But they’re not beautiful.)

Myfanwy Jones is, as I noted in my review of her debut novel The Rainy Season, an author to keep an eye on.  She was shortlisted for the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award and that’s because she writes very well.  She has a great sense of place, and her ear for authentic dialogue is acute.  The minor reservations that I had about The Rainy Season were about plot, but Leap is (as you might expect from a second novel) a more mature work.

But like The Rainy Season, Leap explores absence, grief, guilt and redemption.  Twenty-two year old Joe is navigating the accidental death of his girlfriend Jen three years ago.  He has opportunities with other girls, but to love again feels like betrayal.  Adrift, he works in deadbeat jobs and purges his emotions through parkour, a kind of training discipline which involves using the body and the mostly urban environment for running, jumping, vaulting over obstacles and so on.  Physically, Joe is in constant motion, but psychologically he is in limbo.   The metaphor, which is managed subtly, is that taking the leap into a new relationship involves also the risk of hurt.

By contrast, Elise is stagnating.  Her marriage is dead and she spends long hours in stillness, watching the suppressed energy of the tigers in the Melbourne Zoo.  Her creative energies are sapped by tedious marketing contracts and her friends, while supportive, lack the lively humour of Joe’s mates.   The characterisation of the young men is a real strength in this novel and the dialogue is hip without being irritatingly so:

Minutes later the front door slams and they hear Sanjay cursing and kicking the broken skirting board in the corridor.  After a while he comes into the kitchen, takes his shortbread tin out of the cupboard and sits at the table to silently unpack a foil and his papers; rolls a number.  Once he’s lit up, ‘She says I’m self-absorbed because I didn’t call her yesterday when I knew she was feeling sad.’
Jack tuts and takes the joint out of Sanjay’s hand.  Joe pours beans into bowls.
‘She came to pick up her violin,’ Sanjay continues.  ‘But she said she wants an adjournment – no, that’s not it, a …’
‘Whatever.’
‘…sabbatical, that’s what she said.  She’s having doubts about our compatibility.  And she says I’m too carefree, like it’s a bad thing.’
‘She’s just pissed off,’ Joe says.  ‘Give her a couple of days.’
‘Yeah, no, last week she was talking about a Hindi wedding in the bush with her musician friends and strings of paper lanterns.  Can you see my mother?’
They all chuckle.
‘You’d probably start a bushfire,’ Joe notes.
‘She’s high maintenance.’  Jack is sage.  ‘You should take your own sabbatical.  We’ll go to town.  Make the ladies swoon.’
‘Don’t listen to him, he’s just jealous,’ says Joe.
‘And you’re not, lover boy?  Don’t see you getting much.’
Joe pushes his empty bowl away.  ‘She’ll be back, Sanjay.  You two will be fine.’
‘I don’t know, bro.  This girl.  Sometimes I think that she is rhubarb and I’m parsnip.’
Jack groans loudly, scrapes back his chair and returns to his books.
‘Enjoy your porn,’ Sanjay yells after him.  (P.250)

I really liked the way that Jones has captured the atmosphere of inner Melbourne – its cafés and bars, the vague dinginess of cheap shared housing and the live music scene at the Thornbury Theatre:

The Velvet Room at the base of the old theatre on High Street is packed with family, friends and a smattering of fans.  Once a skating rink then a cinema for early talkies, through a dead era as a ballroom and lame reception centre, the theatre is now the favoured live-music venue for local acts.  On the stage at the back of the room, band members are tuning instruments and the playlist; Sanjay is massaging Emma’s shoulders.  The audience mills, turning out the coarse flour of human intercourse: gushed introductions and half-meant kisses; unspoken questions, whispered promises; all the hopes and hopelessness.  (p.282)

Leap is the kind of book that enriches the reader with its compassionate yet clear-eyed portrait of longing and loss.

Highly recommended.

Other reviews are at The Australian and the SMH.

Author: Myfanwy Jones
Title: Leap
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2015
ISBN: 9781925266115
Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin

Availability

Fishpond: Leap


Responses

  1. For a while I’ve been convinced writers and cover designers think having a tiger in the title or cover image guarantees success, something which is not limited to Australian books: Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, and Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, were both hugely successful, as was McFarlane’s The Night Guest. You can hardly blame them – it seems to work! ;)

    • LOL You might be right! There was the Life of Pi too…
      I have a dictionary of symbols and allusions, but the tiger doesn’t get a mention. Maybe it has some contemporary significance that’s passed me by…

  2. Thanks Lisa, I will put this in my list – it sounds like something I would like. Kate. X

    • I was fascinated to discover the world of parkour. I had never heard of it and at first I thought it was a typo. I reckon I would have loved doing it when I was younger. (LOL much younger).

  3. […] Leap by Myfanwy Jones, see my review […]

  4. I just finished reading Leap. Quite a good read but not my favourite for the Miles Franklin. I love reading about Melbourne, and being able to place myself in the mentioned localities. Two Miles Franklin nominations, Ghost River and Leap, both set in Melbourne. I wonder if one will reign over the other.

    • They’re very different views of Melbourne, aren’t they? I loved the layers in Ghost River, I think about them when I’m down in Mordialloc near the park there where there is a canoe tree.

  5. […] Other readers seem to have liked it more than me. See Shelleyrae’s review at Book’d Out and Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers. […]

  6. […] Leap by Myfanwy Jones, Allen & Unwin, see my review […]


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