The Light on the Water

Olga Lorenzo

The Light on the Water
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The Light on the Water

Olga Lorenzo

Anne Baxter, recently divorced and trying to find her feet, takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilson’s Promontory. Aida, who is six and autistic, disappears; Anne returns from the walk alone. Some of the emergency trackers searching for Aida already doubt Anne’s story.

Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter’s murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.

On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, seemingly as oppressive as the heat haze.

A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgment. This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood, from a respected writer and renowned teacher of writing.

Review

The Light on the Water will be perfect for book groups  – it explores many current issues and yet it is a page-turner. The novel opens with Anne Forster spending her first night in gaol after being arrested for the murder of her six-year-old autistic daughter. Aida went missing on a bushwalk with Anne two years prior to the novel’s opening. The case is prominent and polarises the Australian public, which in turn leads to Anne being hounded by media and harassed by strangers.

Anne recounts how she, a woman ‘born to be a mother’, came to be in this situation, and the novel moves seamlessly between past and present. Anne’s ex-husband and her grown daughter, Hannah, believe in her innocence. But with no body, little evidence, and no witnesses to say they saw Aida alive on the track at Wilson’s Promontory, Anne’s case is faltering.

I was captivated by this novel and read it in one sitting. Olga Lorenzo captures human nature at its best and worst – at best, small kindnesses shown to Anne by a prison guard, and Anne’s own capacity to care for others, including her assistance of a young asylum-seeker. The nature of guilt is explored too – Anne’s guilt over the marriage split, and her possibly unwise decision to take Aida for that fateful bushwalk.

Another highlight of the book is the beautiful imagery – both of Anne’s local beach area, and the description of the walking and camping areas at Wilson’s Prom. Family life is detailed convincingly, as are the highs and lows of having a ‘special needs’ child.

While the novel’s cover is beautiful, it hints at the novel being labelled as ‘popular’ fiction. However, the quality of the writing and superb editing mean this novel sits well within the literary fiction realm. It’s a book I will be recommending frequently this year.


Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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