The Things We Live With: Essays on uncertainty
Upswell, $29.99 pb, 220 pp
The interconnected essays in Gemma Nisbet’s début collection, The Things We Live With, revolve around a premise that is as familiar as Marcel Proust’s madeleines or W.G. Sebald’s images: that things – objects, documents, photographs, even colours – evoke memories of the past. Her essays shift seamlessly from childhood to adult travels, jobs, relationships, and the problems that can lurk beneath a functional exterior.
Nisbet begins with ‘Edward Sylvester Hynes’, in the aftermath of her father’s death and the grief associated with sorting through the ephemera he left behind. Among other things she had forgotten or not seen before, she recognises a painting by Hynes, faithfully hauled by her father from residence to residence. This ‘intimate encounter with stuff’ renews her grief. Nisbet’s excavation of the past comes with the hope that discovering the source of her anxiety and depression might give her, if not a cure, at least a modicum of understanding. The problem she faces is that younger manifestations of our parents are unknowable and can only be surmised from what little evidence remains.