The Spill by Imbi Neeme

The late, great Inga Clendinnen had a theory that history based on personal recollections could be considered, essentially, ‘fake news’ because we all remember details differently; what seems true for one person may not appear true for another. Imbi Neeme’s Penguin Literary Prize-winning debut novel explores this very aspect of memory.

Centred on a family that is fractured by various misdemeanours, the story enquires into the long-term effect of hiding things, and of repression, and why all of these responses to events matter. Nicole and Samantha Cooper both remember the day when they were in a car accident with their mother, Tina. Their recollections, though, are not the same, and therefore their lives take very different paths.

Neeme has created these fragile characters with kindness. There is no apparent judgement, but rather a telling of how it is and why it is. It’s a messy story that flicks from decade to decade and sister to sister as we learn the truth of this family. The sense of trauma within the sisters’ lives is beautifully written; a feeling that is always apparent is that these women hold so much needless pain and loneliness. Their connection to one another is tender, but it is not honest. I imagine many families live this way.

Neeme is a skilled navigator of turbulence. She builds the plot one memory upon another, slowly and gradually filling in the holes. It is a joy to read – melancholic, certainly, but filled with grace. The Spill will be enjoyed by those who are drawn to family drama; readers of Anne Tyler or Thea Astley will feel in very safe hands. I’m already looking forward to Imbi Neeme’s next offering.


Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

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The Spill

The Spill

Imbi Neeme

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