A Social Pulse. "The Secret Burial" by Penelope Sell and "The Alphabet of Light and Dark" by Danielle Wood. [review]
The bush gothic of Barbara Baynton shapes the world of this promising first novel from Penelope Sell. "The Secret Burial" deals with the brutal coming of age of fifteen-year-old Elise. The setting is a harsh, drought-stricken rural environment where people, fauna and the environment are barely surviving. Elise is catapulted into adulthood by the accidental death of her alcoholic mother, Lizzie, who electrocutes herself when drunkenly trying to repair the washing machine. Afraid that she and her younger brother, Jeremy, will be separated, Elise asks her old neighbour, Isaac, to help her bury her mother and tell no one. Danielle Wood’s "The Alphabet of Light and Dark", a first novel and this year’s Vogel Award winner, is a multi-layered work. In the 'now' of the narrative, there are two main characters - Essie and Pete - whose points of view alternate. The story of each character remains separate until they meet at the lighthouse on Bruny Island, where each has come to live. One day, they pass each other on the path in front of the lighthouse; each recognises the other as someone they knew as a child. "The Alphabet of Light and Dark" belongs to the now well established Tasmanian genre best exemplified by Richard Flanagan's "Death of a River Guide". The light and dark imagery of the lighthouse beacon, the motif of flaxen hair and the mermaid story link the generations in a delicate poetic network. This is an impressive first novel, powerfully informed and beautifully written.