‘Laura saw that for Vik the farm would always be something to escape from. What had happened there was just tightly braided together with dark feelings: grief, anger, and fear…The farm was important, Laura explained softly… “This is our home.”’
– Alice Robinson, Anchor Point
When her mother disappears into the bush, ten-year-old Laura makes an impulsive decision that will haunt her for decades. Despite her anger and grief, she sets about running the house, taking care of her younger sister, and helping her father clear their wild acreage to carve out a farm. But gradually they realise that while they may own the land, they cannot tame it – nor can they escape their past.
The next book in my 2016 Stella Prize pile is debut novel Anchor Point by Alice Robinson. I have quite a fondness for the Australian stories Affirm Press publish. They have very good taste! Anchor Point is one of the books I have enjoyed the most of the 2016 longlist!
Ten-year-old Laura lives with her parents and younger sister on their family farm. Her German mother is an artist, selfishly wanting time to herself and is totally unimpressed with the demands of farm and family life. One day she disappears into the bush and isn’t seen again. A police search brings up nothing and the family and community must deal with the fact that she isn’t coming back. However, Laura knows more than she lets on and has to live with the consequences for many years to come.
Robinson’s story spans many years however her finely crafted writing allows the passing of time to creep up on the reader, quickly and unaware! We see the life of Laura, her father and her sister play out over the years and feel sorry for them most of the time. After the disappearance of her mother, Laura continued to raise her sister, help her father on the farm and managed the running of the household. She was forced to grow up quickly; this, along with the secret, leads to quite a bleak and restrained life. When she eventually leaves the farm for the city, she struggles to adapt to the faster pace and to make and keep meaningful relationships. She has a complicated relationship with her one true friend Joseph and is easily led by her partner Luc. Eventually she moves back home to care for her elderly father and dying farm.
As a child, Laura was very aware of her mother’s deficiencies as a parent and partner and always tried to keep the peace between her and her father. In each of her relationships, Laura carries the burden of guilt and always does what the other person wants, even if it means losing sense of who she is and what she believes in. Her father and sister are quite dependent on her and are demanding of her time. Her partner Luc comes across as lazy, all talk and little action. Laura does very little to stand up for herself, instead, she lets everyone else dictate how she feels.
Robinson’s descriptions of the Australian landscape are harsh yet sentimental; she pays homage to its excessive nature, bound and broken by fire and floods. Although it isn’t addressed directly, the effects of climate change and human intervention are always there in the background. Laura and her father’s attachment and attention to the land is unwavering however Robinson is quick to point out that no matter how much of the land you own, it cannot be tamed. Her imagery is evocative, vivid and honest and her prose feels slightly pensive, like she is considering every word she writes and what they mean. I really love the way the title reflects the story; Laura feels anchored to the family farm, it is where she feels most like herself however hooks have both positive and negative connotations and Robinson really plays on this. Laura is also anchored to her shame, the whole story is layered with disappointment, grief and a feeling of numbness. Laura is loyal to a fault; she spends so much of her life pleasing and looking after others that she doesn’t do anything for herself. The barb of history has a sharp sting!
Overall, this is a really lovely Australian story and I definitely recommend adding it to your reading piles!
AUTHOR: Alice Robinson
PUBLISHER: Affirm Press
PUB DATE: March 2015
Thank you to Affirm Press for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!