Steeplechase by Krissy Kneen
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.