Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 9, 2020

A New Name for the Colour Blue, by Annette Marner

Trigger warning: this review is about a book that explores domestic violence and child abuse.
There are spoilers too.

I didn’t intend to read this book.  Back in February I had emailed the publicist to tell her so because “I am tired of reading about violence, whether it’s DV or child abuse, or sexual abuse. It’s not the quality of the writing that’s an issue for me, it’s the normalisation of violence as a staple of Australian publishing”.  I was very pleased when Jock Serong won the inaugural Staunch Award for a thriller without violence against women, and I am in sympathy with the aims of the award, see here.

However…

Late last night I stayed up late watching a ridiculous BBC series called Banished via QuikFlix.  It’s about the very early days of First Settlement and it stars David Wenham faking an upper-class English accent as Governor Arthur Phillip.  The plot lines are absurd, but its saving grace is that it has a very attractive cast, all the eye candy having spectacularly good teeth under the circumstances.  By the time I went to bed with the book, I had forgotten about what I had read six weeks ago in the press release about the author’s journey for A New Name for the Colour Blue. A quick look at the back cover blurb didn’t enlighten me.

Marner writes beautifully, and I was soon drawn into the story of the artist Cassandra Noble in Adelaide, and her delighted discovery of the man of her dreams, Stephen.  I was intrigued by Cassandra’s memory of a childhood friend who disappeared from her life. But my heart sank when I read the exchange on the drive home from a dinner party with friends:

I drive us back to the city.  His fingers stroke my neck as we descend from the dark hills to the frieze of white lights below.  Each light is a home.  As if a home and family is not a rare and precious thing, but ordinary and abundant like she-oaks.  Like galahs.
‘You never told me you could paint like that.’
‘Because I can’t.  Not anymore.’
His hand on my neck shape-shifts into a fist.  He brushes my cheek with his knuckles.
‘You should have told me, Cassandra,’ he says.  ‘You made me look like a fool in front of my friends.’
A moth explodes as it hits the windscreen.  I switch on my wipers.  For a moment, I cannot see where I am going.
‘I’m really sorry, Stephen.’ (p.9)

I knew then where the story was going to go, and I put the book aside.  We all know how this goes anyway: jealous accusations, blaming and shaming; bruises in places where it doesn’t show; the remorse and the promises; the neediness of love transcending the warning signs; the hiding of the problem and denial of it to self and friends; and eventually, the frantic plans to get away. I remembered Rosie Batty and A Mother’s Story and how her kindness and strength was betrayed.  I remembered a neighbour who never confided her troubles until she let slip that she and her children had spent a night sitting on their doorstep, locked out of their own home, and never crossing the road to me for help. I thought of all the women trapped in their homes because of COVID_19.

So of course, I couldn’t sleep…I turned the light on again.

Twice more I put the book aside, but returned to it each time because I had to know if/how Cassandra escaped.  In the process of continuing this finely crafted novel I found that the reason for the child’s disappearance all those years ago was not because she was never found, but because she was removed to prevent justice being done.   She was Indigenous, and the perpetrator of her assault was not.

This sexual violence was not foreshadowed in the press release.

A New Name for the Colour Blue is a very fine book, and I suspect that many people will admire it. It won the Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award.  It’s just not for me, and I should have read the press release again before starting it.

Author: Annette Marner
Title: A New Name for the Colour Blue
Cover image: ‘Kangaroo grass’ by Annette Marner
Cover design: Annette Marner
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2020
ISBN: 9781743057018, pbk., 217 pages
Review copy courtesy of Wakefield Press.

Available direct from Wakefield Press (who are still trading) and Fishpond: A New Name for the Colour Blue. Please support Australian booksellers and your bricks-and-mortar bookshop if you can.

 


Responses

  1. This does sound a very uncomfortable read. I’d have a dilemma about reading it – on the one hand I wouldn’t enjoy reading about such a horrid experience. On the other hand, we need authors to write about such situations to show those who are experiencing them that they are not alone.

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  2. Like you, I shy away from anything like this now. I *know* we need to get the stories out in the open so that this kind of thing stops, but it’s not entertainment – which is why I stopped reading e.g. Scandi crime because I was just sick of the violence against women (and I never read modern thrillers either). And there needs to be a warning in a press release about sexual violence, too. Not one for me, I’m afraid.

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    • Good point: even when it’s well-intentioned as distinct from exploitative, violent crime is just not a topic for entertainment, and I think the plethora of violent films mostly from America have desensitised people to that.
      I think there is a difference in intention between genre fiction which is written for entertainment, and literary fiction which seeks to explore and enlighten, but I think we have reached a point of saturation and run the risk of normalising what is not normal behaviour at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. I don’t know whether the dividing line is, and I think the media and gaming are very much responsible for the desensitisation you mention. There’s such a distortion of what’s normal nowadays that people don’t see the boundaries any more.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I *might* read it: this is territory sadly familiar to me (not as a happily married adult, I must say) but I sometimes need to look back and remember such experiences are not (should not) be endured forever in solitude.

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    • Wise words, Jennifer, and that is a message that needs to go out loud and clear. I was very pleased to see today that the Victorian government has announced the State Government would invest $40.2 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for people suffering or at risk of family violence. I expect the other state governments are doing the same — and it’s important to get that message out because there would be some who would otherwise think that there’s no point in asking for help from overwhelmed services. (I don’t have details for other states, and the Victorian info is buried in a report about other things as well, but FWIW this is the link: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-10/coronavirus-easter-victorians-told-to-stay-home-this-weekend/12140378

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  4. I seem to need just a good story in these times, something escapist – there’s a bit too much bleakness around for me to read a book like this at the moment! I enjoy scandi noir films/TV series, but the constant depiction of violence towards women does concern me very much. I’m reading Salt Creek at the moment – about all I can take in currently!

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    • Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar? I loved that book!
      And here’s another recommendation … a bit cheeky because I’ve only just started it … The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.

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  5. I don’t like violence in books or films at all. And I think that much too often when the author is decrying violence the way they describe it is nevertheless pornographic – ie. designed for titillation.

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    • Yes, I can think of examples, that dreadful book room by Emma Donoghue, for example…
      I don’t think this one is doing that. I think it’s intended to be educative, and for me the take-home message is to beware the neediness of love because even smart people can delude themselves when they’re in this situation. But plotwise #SpoilerAlert the escape from him is too easy. His occupation makes it possible for her to be rid of him, and that’s the wrong message.
      I’m not sharing details, but we were on the hit-list of an angry spouse because we helped his wife to leave him, and it took the police two weeks to find the gun we’d reported to them. He got bail despite convictions for violence, despite his threats, and despite his arson of the house the wife fled to, burning it to the ground and almost causing the death from smoke inhalation of the woman next door. For six months we had police and neighbours watching our house, and every day when I drove into our street after work I dreaded what I might find.
      And then the arson trial came up and he committed suicide. It’s a terrible thing to say but it was a release for all of us, but it’s not what mostly happens. It’s harder than that, and IMO what women need education about is recognising the signs and getting out early.

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      • There were two violent men in my own extended family, and they both died (of illness) relatively young which relieved a lot of pressure but also made/makes it harder to achieve a resolution.

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        • One thing that helped us was that the week before, discussing the likely outcome of the trial I had actually said that I didn’t want him to go to gaol where his resentments would fester amid people who would teach him to be more violent that he already was. What I wished for him, sincerely, was that he would fall in love with someone and be happy, and then he wouldn’t be bothered with us any more.
          Well, that’s not what happened, but I never wished him ill so I don’t feel guilty about his death, just relieved.
          But I always remember that the outcome of it all was that we were safe after months of anxiety, though at the expense of someone’s life. There are women all over Australia who don’t have that outcome, and spend their lives in fear, and far too many of them die at the hands of a man who once loved them.

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      • That sounds like a dreadful situation that you went through Lisa!

        And yes I am reading Salt Creek by Treloar – due to your review! Just started it last night.

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        • It was… and it shows how DV affects not just the immediate victim but a wider circle of friends and family…

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          • I had the experience of living with a violent man by accident – a friend asked me to stay with her, unknown to me her husband was a violent man who also had OCD. Interestingly (and concerningly) she seemed to be quite complicit in his violence particularly to his grandchildren and to me! I left very fast.

            These men are tyrannical. He controlled every aspect of the lives of anyone living with him. You could feel the pressure build, then he would explode over something tiny you had done wrong – like not pegging the washing perfectly on the line – he’d go out of control, then apologize, go quiet for a while and then the tension would build up again. He would make her iron non stop for a full day at a time. He demanded complete obedience. Interestingly she appeared complicit in his violence to his grandchildren, who were left to stay there at times. Maybe that was how she coped, I have no idea, it was beyond my understanding.

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            • There’s a book teasing in my memory, narrated by a child about having to be quiet all the time.
              But of course it’s not just that the children may be frightened, it’s that they’re witnessing such role models.

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