Stone Yard Devotional
Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 297 pp
'Arrive finally at about three.’ The opening sentence of Charlotte Wood’s seventh novel does a lot in five simple words, emblematic of her gift for compression. With the direct, truncated prose of a diary entry, we are suddenly on intimate terms with another mind, impatient to begin. The unnamed narrator is a woman alone, returning to the country town where she grew up and where her parents are buried. ‘Your bones are here, beneath my feet,’ she thinks, standing at their graves for the first time in thirty-five years. So begins her reckoning.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that she is staying at a convent. In this place, wryly compared to a 1970s health resort, she can take the respite that she appears to need. Nothing is expected of her, not even faith. She returns to a kind of childhood, but one freighted with all the knowledge and experience of later life.
The landscape of the Monaro is drawn with brief, expressive gestures: the plains are ‘bare as rubbed suede’ or ‘flat like a shoulder blade’; they ‘bristle with a fine skin of pale grasses’. This is an embodied landscape, tactile and close. ‘Like naming the bones of my own body,’ the narrator observes, listing its place names. Later, she tentatively addresses the colonisation and violence that have made this equivalence both possible and unforgivable.