Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 20, 2019

The Glad Shout, by Alice Robinson

On this day, the Guardian is reporting on Cyclone Idai in Africa:

Cyclone Idai has swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe over the past few days, destroying almost everything in its path, causing devastating floods, killing and injuring thousands of people and ruining crops. More than 2.6 million people could be affected across the three countries, and the port city of Beira, which was hit on Friday and is home to 500,000 people, is now an “island in the ocean”, almost completely cut off.

The official death tolls in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are 200, 98 and 56 respectively. But these totals only scratch the surface; the real toll may not be known for many months as the countries deal with a still unfolding disaster. (Cyclone Idai ‘might be southern hemisphere’s worst such disaster‘, The Guardian, 20/3/19)

At left is a screenshot of where this news item was placed, headlined underneath the article about Teresa May.  The BBC has a thorough report about it: it’s a headline story for them too.  France 24 is reporting it, but only in passing.

And at right is a screenshot of the ABC headlines at the same time on the same day. I scrolled right to the bottom of the screen, and there were no reports about this cyclone at all.  There’s nothing about it in what purports to be the ABC’s World News coverage either.  There is an article about Australian homes possibly becoming uninsurable due to climate change.  Somebody at ABC News, I reckon, has property in Sydney: they are very preoccupied by property prices… but #ForgiveMyCynicism there are not enough deaths from Cyclone Idai to be newsworthy enough to merit the newsroom’s attention.

So it is left to fiction to tell the story of the fate of millions as climate change wreaks havoc around the globe.  Alice Robinson’s new book The Glad Shout tells the story of a storm which destroyed Melbourne, much like Cyclone Idai wrecking cities in Africa.  The streets are flooded; houses have been destroyed; some people are rescued from their rooftops and others are not.  When the story opens Isobel is in a relief centre set up in the cavernous space behind the stadium bleachers, where overpriced merchandise and greasy food were once sold during games.   In a setting where every location is recognisable, Isobel Wilson is with her husband Shaun and her small daughter Matilda:

Jostled and soaked, copping an elbow to her ribs, smelling wet wool and sweat and the stony creek scent of damp concrete, Isobel grips Shaun’s cold fingers and clamps Matilda to her hip, terrified of losing them in the roiling crowd.  The grounds of the stadium-turned-Emergency Relief Centre are still marked with turf paint.  Within hours it will no doubt turn to mud, but for now, as families surge up through the bleachers, the playing field still looks pristine.  Floodwaters have not yet breached the sandbags outside, but there is water in the street and it’s rising. (p.1)

This novel is a bleak but vivid incarnation of a future that seems inevitable, given that our political leaders are still in denial about it.  But The Glad Shout is not just a dystopia: the novel also explores the complex issues of motherhood in extremis.  Isobel’s status-conscious mother Luna is in real estate, doomed to see her ambitions fail as Melbourne succumbs to drought, food shortages and mass unemployment.  Isobel doesn’t share her mother’s values, but their relationship is much more complicated than that.  An older brother, Josh, lacks the stoicism that Isobel often fails to recognise in herself, and he has left the family home after a row with Luna.

Even at her most despairing and angry, when her yearning for her brother becomes unbearable and she retreats to her room to avoid saying something cruel to Luna that she might later regret, Isobel recognises the concern her mother feels for her – that immense maternal love, so difficult to shoulder for them both.  Since he left, Isobel has grown aware of the lost potential of Josh’s life threading out ahead of her, a promise made by him at birth about the kind of adult he would become that Luna that can never cash in on, so long as he keeps his distance.  In his absence, Isobel can never make good on that promise, either.  She could bust a gut for the rest of her life trying to make up for the fact that her brother has cut ties, but it won’t change the fact that he’s done it.  (p.207)

Isobel feels an immense burden  as if her whole character has reduced down to being critical evidence of Luna’s motherhood.  

Well, she doesn’t want to be a placeholder for any aspect of Luna’s identity.  She wants to break away, grow up, have a life of her own – normal things.  But in getting those things for himself, Josh has made it difficult for her to get anywhere close. (p.207)

As Isobel comes to terms with her own motherhood, her resentments morph into a sense of solidarity with her mother.  Women are all strong, or strong enough, in this novel, and the men are not much use: the take-home message is that women cope because they have to whereas men can walk away.  I am not so sure about this: I think that weakness and strength are not gendered qualities.  But that just makes the book more interesting.  I think book groups will have a great time with The Glad Shout… but I sincerely hope that it has a much greater impact than that.

Author: Alice Robinson
Title: The Glad Shout
Publisher: Affirm Press, 2019, 312 pages
ISBN: 9781925712650 (hbk)
Source: Bayside Library Service

Available from Fishpond: The Glad Shout or direct from Affirm Press.


Responses

  1. Climate change is likely the most profound issue of our time. I agree that many world leaders are in denial. The book sounds both intriguing and terrifying. I believe that one role of fiction is to help us grasp with real world horrors. In the form of books like this, that is what fiction is doing.

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    • Hi Brian, yes I think you’re right. One of the issues provoked by this book is the ethics of having children, and that’s a really big decision for people to make.

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  2. The Sydney Broadcasting Corporation barely acknowledges that Australia exists beyond Glebe let alone the wilds of “interstate”. And overseas is confined pretty much to some sort of food and wine trail through Europe. Years of Liberal stacked boards and managerial timidity have done their job (a lot like the Sydney Morning Age really).
    Still, the book sounds good, and I don’t blame women writers for putting women in charge. What’s the writing like?

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    • The ABC makes me cross, I am fed up with their tabloid focus on crime… they’re even dredging up stuff from long ago if they can’t get enough current stuff.
      You know, the other day, a single mother friend of mine rang up during a power blackout to see if we were blacked out too. When I said we were, she said a strange thing: she was relieved that it didn’t signify that there were robbers. Now why, in one of the safest suburbs (we haven’t had so much as a burglary in *decades*) in Melbourne which is one of the safest cities on earth, would her first thought be that there was a gang of robbers cutting her electricity? It’s because the tabloid media have spooked her, and that makes me angry, that she doesn’t feel safe when she should.
      I think you’d like this book:)

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  3. If I didn’t read the Guardian daily I would have no idea what is going on in the world. News in America is even worse. We decided back in the 1970s to not have children because we weren’t happy with the way the world is going. We had puppies and kittens instead 🤣 with no regrets all these years later. You summed this up well.

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    • Absolutely! And I don’t think the ABC is going to get any better with the Queen of Women’s TrashMags running it!

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  4. I’ve been meaning to ask – though of course I could check myself – but is this the Anchor Point Alice Robinson? If so it seems like climate change is a big issue for her.

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  5. […] The Glad Shout by Alice Robinson. see my review […]

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