Sunday 9 November 2008

Book Review: Relative Strangers by Emma Neale

Ever since the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11, 2001 there has been an ever increasing body of literature which has come to be referred to as "Post 9/11 Literature". Although my investigations into this field have only been cursory so far, it has captured my attention. As part of a wider field of trauma literature, post 9/11 literature deals with the Western world's processing and making sense of the atrocities of this day.

The majority of critical attention paid to post9/11 literature has been focused on American literary responses, however when I read Relative Strangers by Emma Neale, a NZ novel, it seemed to me to fit this field.

Relative Strangers starts with Chloe being found in Colin's lounge. She has wandered in there in a state of shock after a series of traumatic events have unfolded in her life. Colin, whom she has never met before, comes home to find this strange and bedraggled woman with her infant son, sat on his couch looking through his personal effects. This the story begins as the reader unravels the narratives of both Chloe and Colin. Coming together under unusual circumstances they find solace in each other - each are survivors of their own particular tragedies - and begin to work through their respective traumas. The glue in this pseudo domestic arrangement is Toby, Chloe's son. The privileging of the domestic and parenthood in this novel appears to be typical of post 9/11 literature - possibly the retreat into the comforting and familiar in the face of death and terror - and is seen as the avenue to healing of both the personal traumas of the protagonists and also the collective trauma of the post 9/11 world.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, Neale's prose is a delight to read - one of my favourite sentences was garnered from this book - and the positioning of New Zealand in the fall out from the 9/11 proves that although our little country may seem remote we are as connected to, and affected by, world events as anywhere else in the world.

I give this a book a solid 8/10.

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