Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

There’s always going to be something comfortingly familiar for me in an Australian novel about growing up in an isolated place. What rang most true in Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water was the immense yearning of a young soul – not for the world outside, but for an understanding of herself and of what it means to belong somewhere. Cole’s heroine, Mema, doesn’t feel the pull of someplace else but is firmly rooted in the land she’s never left, and she swells and grows along with its rhythms. What is essentially a coming-of-age tale and a love story of sorts feels unpredictable, untethered and wild.

Deeper Water is set in an unnamed Australian region whose landscape is itself a fully formed character. From the very beginning, the narrative is framed by the landscape’s moods when a young man’s hire car is washed off a bridge in a flood. Mema is out in the rain, attempting to lead her calving cow back from the swollen creek’s edge as the car breaks through the bridge barrier. She helps the man escape, holding out a branch and pulling him onto the bank, immediately enlisting his help to deliver the calf. Drenched by the summer rain, ankles in the creek, mud squelching under bare feet, covered in the cow’s birthing fluid is how Mema brings ‘flood guy’ into her world, and how she begins to emerge, however late, from childhood.

What I found most powerful about this novel was the sense of Mema not knowing exactly what’s happening outside the borders of her own flesh, who the outsiders really are, who any of us can trust, and where knowledge of one’s own world comes from. Mema’s narrative voice is quiet and measured, never giving very much away but at the same time revealing the immense depth and intensity of her feelings that sit just below the surface. Her longing is mysterious, and Cole’s descriptive prose imbues it with the gloriously sensual anticipation of a bud about to burst into bloom. A compelling and satisfying read; its sensuality and earthiness give a mythical quality to the regional Australian landscape.

Amy Vuleta is the Assistant Manager at Readings St Kilda.