The Quiet Spectacular
by Laurence Fearnley (Penguin NZ, $38)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington
Against a background of day-to-day family life, librarian Loretta is triggered by a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys to identify her yearning for freedom and adventure. Some of this yearning is a mis-guided desire for self-sufficient country life but this manifests itself in another way, not too far from home, and it’s not only Loretta who needs a “room of her own” and finds one.
There is teenaged Chance, environmentalist Riva and the local wetlands – as with all Fearnley’s novels, the place is a strong character – alongside all the people she interacts with as she finds she doesn’t have to do this journey on her own.
Relationships between friends and strangers, teacher and pupils, mothers and children, men and women are shown in their quiet or less quiet ways while Loretta assembles her own “dangerous book” notes, interspersed with potted histories of famous women adventurers to help carry the story forward as they accompany her on her path to freedom and adventure. But it’s the relationships between women and their own directions in life, as well as with one another, that are the strongest focus here.
Laurence Fearnley’s previous novels are The Sound of Her Body, Room (short-listed for a Montana New Zealand Book Award), Delphine’s Run, Butler’s Ringlet, Degrees of Separation, Edwin + Matilda (fiction runner-up for the Montana) and Mother’s Day. The Hut Builder won the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Award for Fiction; Fearnley has also received a Creative New Zealand grant, an Antarctic Fellowship and a Robert Burns Fellowship.
The Quiet Spectacular is more surprising than it is spectacular. But then so are most of our lives. Perhaps that is the point – we can all find freedom and adventure around us if we are open to it. There’s no need to sail the ocean to look for treasure.