Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 17, 2019

Beneath Pale Water, by Thalia Henry

The winter landscape at Aviemore was a different character to the ones Delia had met in summer and autumn.  The thin blanket of snow blended with a white sky, rendering outlines indistinguishable.  Ice crunched beneath her boots, spreading cracks and shards.  The seconds, leading into minutes, were excruciating.  Her fingers had become numb, and her nails, when she pressed against them, didn’t spring back with colour.  She no longer welcomed the cold.

Her body stiff, she walked towards the lake, reminiscing about a warmer day when she’d walked into the water wearing a sundress.  The hues of the scene had been bright then, yellow ochre and piercing blue.  The edge of the lake tickled her boots.  If she were to paint a scene on a flattened stone now it would be different.  The colours would veer towards pastel, influenced by the winter-white glow that surrounded her.  The lake had a unique scent to it.  (p.175)

This excerpt is just a sample of the exquisite writing in this beautiful book by debut novelist Thalia Henry.  The book won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Australia/New Zealand – Best Regional Fiction, and it derives from a play called Powdered Milk (2008).

Set in powerfully evoked landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island (mainly around Dunedin as far as I can tell), the novel focusses on a triangle of characters, all of whom have been damaged by life.  Of the three, a sculptor, a nomad and an artist’s model, the nomad seems at first to be the most troubled.  Through the chance pick-up of a winning lottery ticket, Luke was able to flee his domineering father and the hardscrabble cherry farm that blighted his youth.  He chooses to live as a vagrant, hunting and foraging for such food as the landscape provides, never staying anywhere long enough to form relationships or give meaning to his life.

But as the story progresses, Delia’s grief for her lost love intensifies.  She sculpts his image endlessly, and she forms a one-way attachment to Luke because he resembles Ben (who, only a young man, died of a heart attack and she found his body).  When the crisis occurs, it’s the model, Jane, who is the victim and it’s shocking, but even more shocking is her mother’s unwise intervention to prevent Delia from getting the help she needs.

The unlikely love story that emerges is an affirmation of hope, and it’s deftly handled by an author who clearly has a gift for observing people outside the bubble of modern urban life.

Highly recommended.

That evocative cover is by Rosa-May Rutherford.

You can find out more about the author at her website.

Author: Thalia Henry
Title: Beneath Pale Water
Publisher: Cloud Ink, 2017, 248 pages
ISBN: 9780473407261
Source: Personal library, purchased at Papers Plus, Palmerston North New Zealand, $29.99NZD

Available from Fishpond: Beneath Pale Water


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