Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch

Late in life, I’ve come to the view that everything in out lives is part of a pre-ordained pattern. Unfortunately it’s a pattern to which we’re not given a key. It contains our joys and miseries; our good actions and our crimes; our strivings and defeats. Certain links in this pattern connect the present to the pas. These form the lattice of history, both personal and public; and this is why the past refuses to be dismissed. It waits to involve us in new variations; and its dead wait for their time to reappear.

When Hugh Dixon overhears his father confiding to his mother that he is in trouble, Hugh is determined to help him. His father has a gambling debt which could be the ruin of the family, and young Hugh believes that he only person who can help them is his great-uncle Walter – a man he has never met and who his father will have nothing to do with. Hugh visits his uncle in the old family home, and a friendship develops. As it does, Hugh also learns of his family’s links to a notorious band of bushrangers in the mid nineteenth century. Later, events in Hugh’s own life have strange echoes of that earlier time.

Lost Voices is an evocative, absorbing book, with an intriguing double narrative. The book is divided into three parts, with the middle section telling the 1854 story of two escapees from Tasmania’s Port Arthur who return to their secret mountain hideout – but not before meeting a young Martin Dixon, who convinces them to let him accompany them to tell their tale. In the first and third sections of the book we follow the late teens and early twenties of Hugh Dixon, Martin’s great grandson, a hundred years later. If it were not for this father’s trouble, Hugh would not have met his great uncle and so learned the story of his grandfather.

Yet there are echoes between Hugh’s life and that of his long dead ancestor, particularly the pattern of uneasy relations between father and son. Martin heads off to live with the bushrangers knowing his father will not approve, but determined to follow a path of his choosing. Hugh too does this both in seeking out his great uncle’s help, but also in following a career in illustrating which his father has attempted to discourage him from. This exploration of the relationship between father and son is repeated in other connections in the book – including Hugh’s father and grandfather, his friend Bob’s relationship with a violent father and the bushranger Wilson’s relationship with his father.

There are other echoes and parallels – young men’s relationships with older women, the treatment of women and, importantly the concept of truly evil men. There is so much being explored that the experience may be different for individual readers, and the processing of these themes is likely to go on long after the reading finishes.

Whilst there is action and drama, this is not a fast paced book, taking time to read and to digest, but it is a satisfying, beautiful journey.

Lost Voices

Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch
Fourth Estate, 2012
ISBN 9780732294632

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In Falling Snow, by Mary-Rose MacColl

In the beginning, it was the summers I remembered – long warm days under the palest blue skies, the cornflowers and forget-me-nots lining the road through the Lys forest, the buzz of insects going about their work, Violet telling me lies.

When Iris receives an invitation to attend a reunion in France, she is determined to go. Her granddaughter Grace, a doctor, discourages her. Iris is getting old, and a trip like this might be too much. But for Iris, the memories of the ast are strong, and the invitation has brought back memories of her time in France during World War I when she found herself working in a hospital staffed only by women as she tries to find her 15 year old brother, Tom, who has joined up against his father’s wishes.

Grace, meanwhile, is facing her own battles. A female doctor in a male-dominated hospital world of the 1970s, she tries to balance her career with parenthood and keeping an eye on her ailing grandmother. When her husband suggests there is something wrong with their son, Grace is stunned. Surely he is just different from their daughters?

In Falling Snow is a beautiful, moving dual narrative, telling two seemingly separate stories. Initially it seems the link is simply one of blood – of a grandmother and granddaughter – but as each story progresses there are surprises, and the complexity of their relationship is explored. A second commonality is the idea of women breaking new ground, as it were, with the 1917 storyline showing women playing vital roles in war time, and the more modern tale exploring some of the complexities of being a female doctor in struggling with a male-dominated work place. But what is perhaps the key kink here is the impact of events in the earlier time period on the later one, events and implications which are only slowly unravelled.

There is so much explored in this book that it could easily have become overwhelming – with war, family, motherhood, women’s roles, friendship and more all important themes – but it is so well woven and told through the voice of the elderly Violet and the third person perspective of the younger Grace that it is just lovely.

In Falling Snow

In Falling Snow, by Mary-Rose MacColl
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311219

Available from good bookstores or online.