Aussie Book Review: In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones
“A moving, sweet and uplifting novel of love, grief and the heartache of letting go, from a wonderful new Australian author.
Cate Carlton has recently died, yet she is able to linger on, watching her three young children and her husband as they come to terms with their life without her on their rural horse property. As the months pass and her children grow, they cope in different ways, drawn closer and pulled apart by their shared loss. And all Cate can do is watch on helplessly, seeing their grief, how much they miss her and how - heartbreakingly - they begin to heal. Gradually unfolding to reveal Cate's life, her marriage, and the unhappy secret she shared with one of her children, In the Quiet is compelling, simple, tender, true - heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure."
We’ve all experienced grief at some stage in our lives but what does it mean to lose a wife and mother? What does it feel like to be that same wife and mother who is able to linger on watching over her family as they come to terms with their grief? Hopefully (and God-willing) none of us will ever have to know this tearing apart at the seams of a family but this is the territory which Eliza Henry-Jones, in her debut novel, In the Quiet, explores.
As Bass and the children attempt to get on with their lives on their rural Victorian horse property where the essence of her still lives, be it in the form of her pillow on the marital bed:
“He has left my pillowcase on. The blue and white patterns of it. He sleeps on it every night. It must smell more like him now than it ever did of me.”;
or the nail-polish that now sits abandoned on the coffee table:
“Jessa chips the nail polish off all her fingers but leaves it on her toes. It’s nearly grown out, just little flecks left on her big toes. Blue nail polish. I’d put it on for her, to cheer her up over a miserable day at school.”;
or even the flowers that still reside on top of the sideboard:
“The roses I picked from the garden and set on the sideboard in the living room have lost their colour, are rotting in water that is now mostly green. Their petals are papery and brown, under lounge chairs and puffed down the hallway and into other rooms. There are other flowers, set into corners and on tables. Flowers I haven’t seen before. Dying flowers, some with cards still attached. On shelves and in dirty vases on the verandah.”,
Cate comes to them every day - silent, unseen – and watches over them while still trying to make sense of the recollections that assail her current ethereal form. It’s difficult because there is so much for her to take in and she doesn’t want to miss anything that’s going on in the present, but slowly, in her slightly disjointed way of thinking, she makes her way to the day it all began, as her poignant memories illuminate the novel.
You might wonder after reading the blurb, as I did, how Eliza was going to pull off writing a book from the perspective of the deceased Cate Carlton?
Well, pull it off she did in this gentle and tender story told in quiet words, with scenes set in muted colours, about a family who are grieving the loss of the glue that held them together – someone who should have been around to be a loving companion to Bass as well as help Rafferty, Cameron and Jessa navigate their adolescence and coming-of-age with sound advice and the love and understanding that only a mother can give.
Eliza’s background in psychology and counselling, combined with her expertise in equine therapy and her own love of horses, places her firmly in a position to capture not only life on an Australian horse property but the way that grief affects each of us in such different ways and I was really taken in by the portraits she painted of these bereaved children’s interactions with the horses, specifically Cameron and Jessa, as they searched for a connection to their mother through her horses.
The setting is evocative, her prose rich and Eliza has captured well the sense of isolation in their grief giving us a stunning story about memories, love, loss, family and the burden of a secret left on the shoulders of a child.
This is an absorbing, thoughtful and langorous debut told in such a compelling voice that I have no doubt it will linger in your thoughts long after you have turned the final page.
I wish to thank the publisher, HarperCollins Australia for providing me with an eGalley proof of this novel for review.
About the Author
Eliza Henry-Jones was born in Melbourne in 1990
In 2012 she was a young Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre and was a recipient of a Varuna residential fellowship for 2015.
She has qualifications in English, Psychology and Grief, Loss and Trauma Counselling and is currently completing honours in creative writing - exploring bushfire trauma.
Eliza has been published widely, with work appearing in literary journals and anthologies across Australia, including Southerly, Island and Award Winning Australian Writing.
She works in community services and lives in the Dandenong Ranges with her husband and too many animals.