There is a distinct poignancy attached to last things, a sense in which they encapsulate all that has gone before at the same time as they anticipate an end. In the moment of their first manifestation, last things are already haunted by their own absence. This Water: Five tales is the first book by Beverley Farmer to be published since 2005, and has been announced as her last work.
This Water inhabits the haunted – and haunting – regions between presence and absence, life and death, day and night, this world and its mirrored otherworld, the life of the body and the life of the mind. Rich in elemental metaphor, and literary and mythic echoes that will be familiar to readers of Farmer’s work, the book evolves via silken threads of association that link its five tales, weaving an intricate web at the heart of which lie ‘bonds of silence, absence and solitude’.
‘Ring of Gold’ is classic Farmer. It relates the solitary life of a woman who lives by The Rip, walks its tidal zone, and remembers her mother, her lost child, the books that are ‘too small to live in’ but that somehow make a world in the mind. Like all the tales in this book, ‘Ring of Gold’ borrows from myth, in this case the folktale of the Great Silkie, embodied in the figure of a bull seal who beaches himself and, before returning to the water, gives a silent roar, ‘a mute, a mutual scream of horrified recognition’. Here, Farmer introduces many of the images that are repeated throughout the book, and which gain power and meaning with each iteration: golden wedding bands, red silk, spider webs, pomegranates, ‘God’s curse on Eve’, metamorphosis, the underworld, and the elements of water, fire, stone, and ice.