The Gap: An Australian paramedic’s summer on the edge
Viking, $34.99 pb, 304 pp, 9781760890209
Sirens wail. Families cry together. Defibrillators shock bodies into convulsion. These are the sounds and images that veteran paramedic, writer, and filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour animates in his latest book, The Gap. His prose is direct, honest, uncompromising; often unembellished. ‘Death is demystified to us; it’s the business we’re in,’ he writes. At times, we feel like we are sitting in the ambulance with him and his band of partners: John, Jerry, Tracy, Matt, and Donna.
The Gap chronicles Gilmour’s experiences in the summer months of 2008 in Eastern Sydney, a fertile time for drownings in Bondi, brawls in Kings Cross, suicide attempts at ‘The Gap’ – an ocean cliff in Watson’s Bay. ‘The Gap is a backdrop for the final act of life,’ Gilmour declares. The book’s elliptical, theatrical structure does a fine job of reflecting the non-stop chaos of emergency work.
In the introduction to Paramédico (2011), Gilmour laments that the public does not know ‘who we really are’. While that book cannot entirely redress such misunderstandings, The Gap provides a more focused, thematically unified account of the paramedic experience. It explores the joys of saving lives, the resolute bonds between one’s paramedic ‘brothers and sisters’, and the haunting burdens of failure.
The Gap preoccupies itself with how life and paramedic work, for better or worse, interlock. Various passages recalling particular call-outs are interrupted by the surfacing of past traumas in emergency situations, Gilmour’s intermittent longing for his now-wife Kaspia – from whom he was then separated – and concern for his professional partners, especially John, who is enduring an unbearable breakup. Gilmour describes John’s face as ‘taut, a dam holding back an impossible pressure’.
Due to the sensitive material of The Gap, one can understand why it took Gilmour a decade to finish. He has created a funny, considered, touching work.