Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 3, 2017

Gravity Well, by Melanie Joosten

It’s not so very long ago that my mother died of ovarian cancer so there were times when reading Melanie Joosten’s second novel was difficult for me.  One of her characters dies of the disease, and her daughter fears the genetic inheritance as I do.  But Gravity Well is so intriguingly constructed and so engaging on the subject of damaged relationships that I put my feelings to one side and kept on reading anyway…

But first, the title.  I bet I’m not the only reader who Googles it to find out what it means.

gravity well or gravitational well is a conceptual model of the gravitational field surrounding a body in space – the more massive the body, the deeper and more extensive the gravity well associated with it. The Sun is very massive, relative to other bodies in the Solar System, so the corresponding gravity well that surrounds it appears “deep” and far-reaching. The gravity wells of asteroids and small moons, conversely, are often depicted as very shallow. Anything on the surface of a planet or moon is considered to be at the bottom of that celestial body’s gravity well, and so escaping the effects of gravity from such a planet or moon (to enter outer space) is sometimes called “climbing out of the gravity well”. The deeper a gravity well is, the more energy any space-bound “climber” must use to escape it.  (Wikipedia, viewed 3/8/17)

And I bet I’m not the only person who doesn’t understand the significance of this title until the end of the book.

Gravity Well begins with a prologue, so the reader knows that something terrible has happened, but not what it is.  Thereafter, third person narratives bring the intersecting stories of Lotte and Eve, once the best of friends but now both perilously alone.  Eve is a sound engineer, captivated by the the minutiae of our world: animal, human and the built environment.  Lotte is an astronomer, fascinated by the night sky, and obsessed by the quest to find new planets.  Lotte and her colleagues amuse themselves by cataloguing all the gruesome ways there are to die in space.  And Lotte jettisons relationships without a qualm because, well, what does it matter? we’re all just specks in the universe.

The quotation at the start of the book is from Carl Sagan:

Look again at that dot.  It’s here.  That’s home.  That’s us.  On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.  Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Clever, ambitious and self-reliant, Lotte is too busy with the rational world of the heavens to waste time on her own feelings.  When her husband Vin tries to persuade her to have genetic testing, she remembers the trajectory of her mother’s illness and how she was dragooned into treatments that only made things worse.

We will beat this, they said, over and over again, but they only ever managed to confuse its course, and force the forging of another route. Was the surgery, the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy, worth the resulting nausea and pain?  Were they worth the extra time?  How is it that humans still maintain that time is something that can be stretched, pulled, made to fit their purpose?  (p.171)

And then she sidesteps the memory, prattling on about the moon outside.

I just want what’s best for you, he said.  I want you to have every chance.

You know the moon is trying to get away, said Lotte.  It’s caught in our sky at a cost: as it pulls towards the sun, it’s slowing us down, slowing the earth’s rotation.

She felt Vin’s sigh, rather than heard it.

So the world will slow down, he said.  We won’t notice; we don’t even notice it’s moving.  Not really.

It’s moving at over a thousand kilometres an hour, she wanted to say to him.  We’d notice.  It’s just that none of us will be alive to witness it.

Maybe we need to slow down, he said.  We need a holiday… (p. 66).

Poor Vin…

The reader suspects that this relationship is doomed when Lotte finds herself overwhelmed by the loving chaos of meals with Vin’s family and chooses not to keep in contact with her bereaved father because that’s not how they do things.  It’s the relationship with Eve that matters to Lotte, but #NoSpoilersHere something happens to test it and catastrophe results.

There are echoes of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in the characterisation of Lotte’s mother, in this carefully crafted character-driven novel.  The people of Gravity Well are all flawed but are more than specks in the universe.

Author: Melanie Joosten
Title: Gravity Well
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2017
ISBN: 9781925322057
Source: Bayside Library

Available from Fishpond: Gravity Well


Responses

  1. I like the quotes a lot (the cover is great BTW).

    • *wail* I don’t understand the cover!

      • Who cares. It’s attractive!

        • Yes, but….!

          • Doesn’t look as though the book is available here

            • No, probably not yet. But Scribe UK may get it in due course.

  2. This does sound rather intriguing and I can order it, but I have plenty of books on hand at the moment. I’ll add it to the wish list!

    • So you could get it in Canada? Strange how the world of publishing works…

      • I can now get many Aussie releases through Book Depository shipped from Australia (which in my experience is faster than coming from the UK). I have a few items piling up on my wish list!

        • Ah, so that’s how it’s done:)

  3. This sounds excellent.Several books that have caught my eye recently have turned out to be published by Scribe.

    • This was one of half a dozen that Readings was promoting, and I think it’s the best of them.

      • With luck, they’ll publish it here in the UK, then.

  4. I take it that the book is Australian. You don’t say. Is it my fault for not recognising the author? I think the cover is one person contemplating the universe, reflected in water, a well maybe (though not a gravity well).

    • You’re right, sorry! I did categorise it as Australian and having settings in NSW and Victoria but #MissingAnOpportunityToBrag I omitted to mention in the review that she’s a Melbourne author. It’s only her second novel, but she’s high profile right now because her first novel Berlin Syndrome has just been released as a film.

      • The things of which I am ignorant are legion!

        • Join the club! There are the things about which I have always been ignorant, and then there are the things about which I am newly ignorant because I have forgotten what I used to know…

  5. That cover is really fascinating. Do we have a science boffin who can tell us if there is significant meaning . . . because I want it to be so.

    • *chuckle* I’m not so sure that there are many science boffins who read this blog!
      The way I interpret it is that the one on the bottom with the telescope is Lotte and the one on the top is the sound engineer Eve, and they are inextricably drawn together as in a gravity well but separated by the stuff that life dishes up.


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