Allen & Unwin, $29.95 pb, 288 pp
Childhood, Freud taught, becomes us, but our earliest memories can be sly; they resist us when we seek them, and pounce when we are unprepared. It is thus only by chance that Proust comes upon his first recollections, those idyllic scenes revived in long wafts of hawthorn-scented nostalgia. The legacy of childhood and its fickle reminiscence has always been prominent in Charlotte Wood’s work. In The Children, childhood is remembered as a grim affair, something the three siblings at its centre would rather leave behind. Yet much of this novel hinges on the idea that childhood is something we never escape: old memories involuntarily impinge upon us, and the self that defined us as children, the book suggests, constitutes us throughout our lives.
Wood has always been drawn to family entanglements; to secret allegiances and divided loyalties. In The Children, the latent dramas of childhood are cast into the limelight when the three siblings – Cathy, Stephen, and Mandy – return home after their father, Geoff, suffers a terrible accident. Confined to the dull quarters of their childhood country town, the siblings make the uncomfortable discovery that they are merely adult versions of the awkward children they once were. In this sense, their father’s accident is not the focus of the novel. It forces the family together, but in doing so brings into relief their distressed relationship with one another.