by Sonya Hartnett
Hamish Hamilton, $29.95 pb, 224 pp
Sonya Hartnett is one of the most various of good writers. In particular, she is good at creating atmosphere: a distinctive world for every story. As a consequence, every book she writes is a different style of book. Take some recent examples. The Ghost’s Child (2007), with its plot like a fable, reads like an old tale told in an outdated language of ‘sou’westers’ and ‘fays’. Its form, language and style are so consistent its oddity seems like part of its simplicity. In contrast, Surrender (2005), a horror story, has a style of calculated Gothic, playing narrative games to manufacture menace.
On the face of it, Hartnett’s latest book, Butterfly, is more conventional: a coming of age story set in the suburbs, written in a style of crowded realism. Ariella ‘Plum’ Coyle is nearly fourteen. Butterfly starts with Plum assessing herself in the mirror:
If her reflection is true then she has gone about in public like this – this thick black hair hugging her face like a sheenless scarf; these greasy cheeks with their evolving crop of scarlet lumps; this scurfy, hotly sunburned skin; these twin fleshy nubbins on her chest that are the worst thing of all …