I was really looking forward to reading Michelle de Kretser’s novella, Springtime: A ghost story. I first fell in love with de Kretser’s writing style while reading Questions of Travel, winner of the 2013 Miles Franklin Award. She has a way of creating magic on the page, her words spinning a world that comes alive, bursting with detail, that captivates me. In this sense, Springtime did not disappoint.
Frances has moved from Melbourne to Sydney with her partner, Charlie, and her dog Rod. Charlie has left his wife and young son to be with Frances and the new relationship and new location are unsettling. The transition is alienating; the Sydney weather, landscape and even the people and are strange, nothing is as it once was.
“She was still getting used to the explosive Sydney spring. It produced hip-high azaleas with blooms as big as fists. Like the shifting sun, these distortions of scale disturbed. Frances stared into a green-centred white flower, thinking, ‘I’m not young anymore.’ How had that happened? She was twenty-eight.”
Frances takes to walking Rod along the river in the mornings in an attempt to get her bearings in this foreign environment. It is during one of these morning walks that Frances feels time stop still. As she looks through the back fence of one of the houses that backs onto the riverside path, she notices a woman in a long, flowing pink dress and a wide-brimmed hat. A white bull terrier stands guard near the fence. He keeps a keen eye on Frances and Rod as they pass by. Rod, a rescue dog, is easily intimidated by other dogs, and Frances is anxious to make sure that he isn’t distressed by the bull terrier. Over the weeks, Frances comes to realise that whenever she sees the woman in the pink dress and her dog, she is always alone on the walking path.
The writing in this novella is distinctive of de Kretser’s style with delightful descriptions that bring moments and locations to the fore, placing the reader squarely in the scene.
“Sydney came to them as a series of visions held in rectangular glass. They were serious Melbourne people. They wore stylish dark coats, and Sydney could seem like an elaborate joke. T-shirts in winter! A suburb called Greystanes! On wet days, gumbooted stumps showed under the striped and sturdy domes of vast umbrellas, while subtropical rain pounded Frances and Charlie’s black foldaways into collapse.”
This novella differs from the long form novel in that the story skips over time, and not everything is clearly explained or laid out for the reader, and this makes for an interesting technique. There are jumps and gaps where I felt I had to fill in the blanks. At times I struggled with this technique – it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that some of the pieces were missing. I wanted to know what had happened in those missing gaps, but this desire was not to be satisfied. This may frustrate some readers, as it did me, initially, but I think it’s important to not let this put you off reading this book. The experimentation with style brings its own rewards, and I think that being challenged while reading a work is a good thing. Rather than let the story simply unfold as I read, I found myself musing on those gaps, filling them in myself with different scenarios. It made me engage with the writing, and pay close attention because I couldn’t rely on all the events being revealed piece by piece. I would have to hunt for clues in this ghost story.
Being a novella, Springtime is a quick read and I finished it easily in a day. It was like a refreshing little break in time, a sojourn to somewhere else in the midst of my day. A pleasurable read, that will delight and surprise.
Springtime: A ghost story by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin 2014)
If you missed my review for Questions of Travel, you can read it here.