In her searing novel, The Colour of Walls, Janet Kelly writes about child abuse and incest with clarity and understanding. The subject matter alone is disturbing, and the sense of cyclical hopelessness is both enduring and arresting. Still, Kelly brings us to a faintly optimistic resolution. This somewhat redeems an otherwise bleakly realistic story.
The narrative begins with a deceptive lyricism. We meet Erica Williams, who, with chatty innocence, describes her Melbourne-based, dysfunctional family. Erica is an astute observer, and her child’s voice carries with it the simple diffidence that naïveté affords. Her mother and father are in the process of separating. We soon realise that her godparents, Auntie Jill and Uncle Bob Harris, Erica’s neighbours, live in a cauldron of domestic violence. Kelly shows considerable skill in changing the emotional tone of a scene in a line. Avuncular Uncle Bob throws Auntie Jill’s salad against a wall. Worse is to come.