Josephine Taylor reviews 'The Gulf' by Anna Spargo-Ryan

Shortly after her son, Luke, was murdered by his father, Rosie Batty spoke of the non-discriminatory nature of family violence: ‘No matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are. It can happen to anyone, and everyone.’ If Batty’s is an example of the less easily imagined site of domestic violence, Anna Spargo-Ryan’s second novel, The Gulf, presents us with a more conventional alternative: a disadvantaged environment, a mother (Linda) who loses herself in each man she encounters, and her children, Skye and Ben, who pick up the slack. But when Linda meets Jason, a shady bloke in ‘import–export’, and the three move from Adelaide to his home in ‘shithole’ Port Flinders, incipient violence turns overt, erratic mothering becomes neglect, and Skye is forced to protect herself and Ben, and to make decisions that will affect them all.

By creating a stereotypically dysfunctional scenario, setting it out immediately – with impressive economy – and making sixteen-year-old Skye the narrator, Spargo-Ryan averts a deep consideration of moral and psychological ambiguity in domestic abuse – what brings a perpetrator to this point? How might a partner collude with him or her? Shades of grey are reserved for Skye and her young half-brother, with other characters generally broad-brushed good, or not. Linda’s compulsion to impress Jason through a desperate kind of subservience, for instance, is unexamined and unequivocal. It is also frighteningly funny:

Jason whispered into his phone. Mum buzzed around him, sweeping and straightening. She bought a vacuum cleaner from Kmart and pushed that around him too, picking up dust that hadn’t had time to accumulate yet.
‘Linda,’ he said, ‘can you fucking not?’ and pointed at his ear.
‘I’ll put it on eBay,’ she said, and sat next to him on the couch with her hand on his knee.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.