Beyond Words: A Year with Kenneth Cook by Jacqueline Kent
In 1985, Jacqueline Kent was living in Sydney and working as a freelance book editor. At a dinner party, she met Kenneth Cook, author of classic Australian novel Wake in Fright. The two quickly fell in love, and married in early 1987. Sadly, Kent’s time with Cook was to be brief – he died unexpectedly while they were on a camping trip together shortly after their wedding.
Beyond Words is not a biography of Cook’s life, nor is it a straightforward memoir of Kent’s. It is the story of their relationship and the time they spent together. Kent writes beautifully and concisely, with an idiosyncratic voice that never wavers, even when revisiting painful memories: the complex financial strife her husband was often in, the breakdown of her relationship with her adult step-children, and of course, Cook’s sudden death. As well as telling the story of this relationship, Beyond Words captures a portrait of a specific side of 1980s Australia. Kent writes as an insider of the literary world of this time, and the book contains interesting anecdotes about what it was like to write and work with writers at this time. She writes about how the industry worked pre-internet, how common it was for authors to be resistant to anything more than the lightest of edits before publication, and even how Kenneth Cook was made to go on tour in a Driza-Bone coat and an Akubra hat, two items of clothing he had never before worn in his life.
This book is a delight to read, and could easily be finished over the course of a couple of days, or even an afternoon. Jacqueline Kent is a wonderful writer, and this bittersweet account of the relationship between two creative people, and of literary culture in Australia in the 1980s, is guaranteed to stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.