Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis
This very short novel from Lauren Aimee Curtis follows the titular character, Dolores, as she arrives at a remote convent of nuns. She’s sixteen years old, dehydrated, pregnant, and has a lace tablecloth, taken from a restaurant, pinned to her head. The book moves between scenes from her life in the convent and the events that led her there, and Curtis skilfully balances both its revelations and ambiguity to aid momentum.
Dolores isn’t the girl’s real name, and it’s never disclosed. Her mother has a Spanish background and fills their apartment with Spanish novels which she never reads. We know the convent is in the hills somewhere in Europe, but never know where, exactly. All this, rather than being frustrating, gives the story an otherworldly sheen, and the book is so well written that it makes the need for solid details feel frivolous. What Dolores doesn’t hold back on is the grotesqueness of everyday life for the women at the convent. The nuns have green-yellow gunk in their eyes and bad breath. One has a large tooth that hangs out of her mouth. They smell of sweat. Another has ‘a large, round, and translucent face, like the moon’. Even the pretty one bites her nails.
Focussing on these details has the possibility of slipping into cruelty, but Curtis resists doing so. By keeping the narrative tight, she’s able to put care into each sentence and this pays off with a kind of warmness that encompasses the characters in its glow. Curtis is certainly a new Australian voice to pay attention to and she is already receiving attention from overseas readers; a part of Dolores has already appeared in Granta. If you are looking for an Australian novel that embraces its uniqueness, then Dolores can’t be recommended enough.