Ashley Hay reviews 'In the Garden of the Fugitives' by Ceridwen Dovey

Ashley Hay reviews 'In the Garden of the Fugitives' by Ceridwen Dovey

In the Garden of the Fugitives

by Ceridwen Dovey

Hamish Hamilton, $32.99 pb, 305 pp, 9781926428598

I was never brave enough to visit Pompeii, partly due to an overactive imagination that combined a sense of the ferocity of Vesuvius’s blast in 79 CE and the volcano’s ongoing muttering with thoughts of the city’s Roman residents, cauterised in the eruption: outstretched hands; a dog expiring mid-roll; a mother and her child.

The shapes that people Pompeii are not strictly bodies. They are casts made by pouring plaster into the negative space left after skin and flesh and organs decomposed inside the ash and pyroclastic muck of the explosion. They are statues – constructions, rather than artefacts. I learned this while reading Ceridwen Dovey’s rich and ambitious new novel, In the Garden of the Fugitives. Pompeii anchors half of the book’s story through the character of Kitty Lushington, a vivacious archaeology student whose attention moves from the remnants of its dead world – casts and murals; all the rubble – to the ancient gardens of the place; the living, instead of the dead.

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Published in April 2018, no. 400
Ashley Hay

Ashley Hay

Ashley Hay's awards include the Colin Roderick Award and the NSWPLA People’s Choice (for The Railwayman’s Wife) and the Bragg/UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing for ‘The Forest at the Edge of Time’, the original version of which was written for the ABR Dahl Trust Fellowship. Her most recent novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, was shortlisted for the 2017 Queensland Literary Awards and is set in Brisbane, where she now lives.

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