Gravity Well opens with Carl Sagan’s famous ‘mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam’ quote, suggesting themes of astronomy, loneliness, and humanity’s cosmic insignificance. Though I was immediately smitten with the cover design (a nebula-coloured orb, its top and bottom halves depicting mirrored but not identical female silhouettes amid a sea of cosmic black), I worried that the novel might overdo the astronomy analogies. Yet it soon became apparent that Melanie Joosten’s writing is as subtle as it is intelligent. The astral references are frequent but add interest and depth. All appear well-researched, and many – such as the Voyager Golden Records – sent me googling for more.
Gravity Well follows the intertwining stories of Lotte – an astronomer who leaves her husband in Canberra to take up a job in Chile – and Lotte’s best friend, Eve, who is in the throes of grief after a tragedy. The character-driven narrative delves into the psyches and memories of each as chapters alternate between their points of view. Jumping back and forth in time through their reminiscences is both a narrative strategy and a thematic concern as Joosten explores the nature of time and its perception. For Lotte, ‘retrospect works like a telescope: looking back in time to predict what will come – but never soon enough’. For Eve, raw grief makes her feel ‘in two places at once, the then and the now’.