Sunday 10 September 2017

The Broken Book by Fiona Farrell   {Reviewed by STELLA}
In preparation for my conversation with Fiona Farrell at the Mapua Literary Festival about her latest novel Decline and Fall on Savage Street, I’ve been reading The Broken Book. This was meant to be a book about travel, about her passion for walking and noticing. It was a step into the world of non-fiction, a collection of essays triggered by her time in Menton as the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in 1995 and the Rathcoola Residency in Ireland in 2006. Writing this in Dunedin in 2011 (as the recipient of the Burns Fellowship), this book became a very different one from the one intended. The earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 changed everything. The essays are still there, three of them, entitled 'A Walk in the Cevennes', 'A Walk to the Winter Palace', 'A Walk to the Botanic Gardens', along with the fourth, 'A Walk on Shaky Ground'. Interspersed with these texts are 20 ‘earthquake’ poems, setting the scene for what is to come. It’s a disconcerting read, as we all know the impact of these earthquakes and how they continue (and will do so for several generations) to mark people’s lives, the landscape, and the psyche. When Farrell is walking the trails in France we walk alongside, carefree, taking the history, her stories of the past and present, in our stride - enjoying her meandering style walking-pace. Then we are thrown into self-doubt, into a shaken up world, as a poem presses itself between these jottings - with words like fractured, cracks, lost, broken, all prick and agitation. This displacement of the reader is cleverly arranged, making the book one that beguiles with places traveled and unsettled by the impending disruption of the earth quaking. The Broken Book was a nonfiction finalist for the New Zealand Book Awards in 2012 and, in 2016, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire (the companion work to her new novel) was just as well received.

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