The Opal Octopus

Reading and reviews by the Indian Ocean

Review: Let Her Go by Dawn Barker


Let Her Go
by Dawn Barker

Published by Hachette Australia
on 2014-06-24
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Pages: 352
Review: Let Her Go by Dawn Barker

Zoe clings to baby Louise on the Rottnest ferry:

“Zoe turned to look out to sea. She hunched over so that her chin covered the head of the baby held against her chest, as if they were one being, as if she could make enough room for the child to simply melt into the space in front of her heart, where no one could ever take her away. Is that how it would have felt to have borne her?”

As the story unfolds in shifting timelines, we find out why Zoe is escaping to Rottnest in midwinter with a baby she didn’t birth. We also learn why Louise is found unconscious on Rottnest Island seventeen years later, and how the keeping of a family secret can undermine relationships and wound those kept in the dark.

One thing I loved about this book is the deep exploration of what it can mean to be a mother, from two people’s points of view (there are, of course, many more!). That feeling of having a part of your heart existing outside of your body, of that incredible physical closeness to one tiny person, is a hellishly difficult one to describe, but Let Her Go has a good go at it.

And then there is the disability angle:

“She’d spent her life having to relinquish control to other people, to her illness. Not a week went by without hearing about someone who’d beaten the odds: run a marathon after shattering their spine; swum the Channel after having limbs amputated; been cured of an incurable cancer. But this wasn’t a case of showing determination; there was no miracle waiting for her around the corner if she only fought harder. If only. It was luck, bad luck.”

Zoe’s infertility is caused by lupus, and other characters develop issues with mental illness. This book examines the effect infertility can have on people and partnerships, and it also takes a long hard look at how ableism can wielded as a weapon against families dealing with disability, even by those who supposedly love them. This is a tough and close-to-home topic, and I feel it was done well here. Another of the more powerful aspects of the book is Zoe’s experience of feeling utterly alone and despairing in her infertility and grief for her lost pregnancies, surrounded by people complaining about how exhausted they were from parenting. I was crying for her every time someone apologised, “Oopsie, that was insensitive, wasn’t it?”

Another thing I adore in a book is a vivid, effective sense of place. Let Her Go is set in Perth/Fremantle, my hometown, and throughout the book the setting plays a part – the layout of the city, how the summer’s heat feels, the native vegetation, and more. And of course, I love a book where the Indian Ocean plays a large part!

“[Zoe] held out her right hand, palm up, as she had been taught as a child, and looked at the silhouettes of islands on the horizon. Her thumb pointed at Rottnest; her index finger to Stragglers Rock; her middle finger to Carnac Island, where Lachlan fished, returning with stories of sea lions and tiger snakes; her ring finger to Garden Island; and her pinky to Penguin Island. The palm of her hand, right here where she lived and where her daughter now lived, was Fremantle. She smiled and curled her palm tightly closed, holding onto home, onto family.”

Let Her Go is a terrifically written book, with adept pacing and just enough mystery to keep the pages turning (and turning, and turning…)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badge

Content notes for infertility & pregnancy loss, relinquishment, alcoholism and drug use, domestic violence, sexual consent issues, self-injury.

I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley for review consideration.

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