Rachel isn’t the last woman in the world, but she might as well be. Cloistered in her bushland home on Yuin country, in New South Wales, Rachel’s days consist of birdsong, simple meals prepared from a pantry stocked with home-made preserves, and glass-blowing in her private studio – a craft that is both her livelihood and her religion. It’s a peaceful yet precarious existence. The land is scarred by bushfires. Rachel’s senses are attuned to the absence of wallabies and small birds. For all her proficiency with sourdough starter, Rachel isn’t self-sufficient. Her older sister, Monique, provides an emotional tether to the world, while townswoman Mia delivers supplies and transports Rachel’s glassworks to a gallery. When Mia fails to show, Rachel rues the lack of a back-up plan. When Hannah, a young mother, raving about a nation-wide outbreak of death, arrives on her doorstep with a sick infant, luddite Rachel must choose between taking Hannah’s word for it or rejecting her.
It has been two hundred and seventy-six years since Pamela was published, the first piece of writing in English in the novel form; it was a structure designed both to entertain and instruct, and still we are debating if the concept was a good idea.
Inga Simpson is the author of two previous novels, Mr Wigg (2013) and
Inga Simpson’s second novel is set in the lush subtropical hinterland of Australia’s east coast. Jen, a reclusive artist, goes back to where she grew up and where her father was a timber-cutter, to find peace among the birds and trees. But mysteries and disappearances trouble her idyllic life.
Like her artist protagonist, Simpson has acute powers of observation and an ability to capture nature on the page. The vivid colours of rainforest birds and the intricate growth of forests, set to a soundtrack of birdsong, lulls the reader. However, the nesting theme threads together a narrative more fragile than compelling.