Steeplechase

Krissy Kneen

Steeplechase
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Steeplechase

Krissy Kneen

I force myself to take the phone away from my ear and search for the last incoming call. I store the number under one word, ‘sister’. I know I should have used her name but it is all I can think of in this moment. Sister. My sister just called me and I spoke to her. I imagine the words as if they were written in a book: Twenty-three years later my sister called.

Bec Reich is recovering from surgery when Emily calls, so naturally she thinks she is hallucinating. Emily, famous worldwide for her paintings, and also for her schizophrenia, lives in Beijing. But that’s not why she hasn’t spoken to Bec for so many years.

And now she wants Bec to come to China for the opening of her new show. Which would mean revisiting the sinister games and shared delusions of their strange, locked-in childhood. It would mean a risk of hurt; even damage. Or worse.

Review

For fans of Krissy Kneen’s erotic writing in Affection and Triptych, Steeplechase will pulse with a familiar sensuality.

For those who are discovering her writing for the first time, pay attention and hold fast – this is one you’ll remember. Kneen’s prose is rich, gentle and quiet. The epigraph, a quote from Nabokov, hints at a story of damage and dark, forbidden desire, but in retrospect the words speak of a positive self-knowledge and acceptance attained through ‘these miserable memories’.

Burdened by the unspeakable weight of an isolated childhood – a house locked firmly against the outside world, girded by fences not to be crossed and haunted by a mother who is mute with madness – Bec Reich’s adult life is a contradiction of polite facades and disturbed depths, cautious interactions and careless love. As she recovers from surgery and eases her way into a potentially sordid affair with a younger man, Bec receives a phone call from her estranged sister, Emily, an acclaimed Australian painter living in Beijing. In the days following, Bec finds herself confronting demons from her past that she thought she’d exorcised long ago.

The novel’s second part takes place in Beijing, at Emily’s home. It is here that the pace increases alongside Bec’s physical and psychological turmoil, jetlagged, sick and essentially lost in a foreign city. I could not stop reading through these chilling chapters, the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, my chest tight with fear.

Steeplechase is superbly paced. It never breaks its intensity, but increases it gradually with each hurdle and crossing. It is heavy with constantly seeping liquid: dripping sweat, humidity, rain, sexual fluids, mud, oils, paint, faeces, urine, ash and blood. Kneen’s writing is elemental and corporeal, exploring an embodied psychological experience that is darkly feminine and exquisitely intense.

Steeplechase is a worthy and chilling addition to the Australian gothic tradition.

Amy Vuleta works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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