Fiction review – What is left over, after

'What is left over, after'Natasha Lester has three children and lives in Western Australia. This is good news for me, otherwise I would want to be her. Her first novel won the 2008 TAG Hungerford award, she’s written for Overland, indigo and Wet Ink, and she just won a Publisher Fellowship from Allen & Unwin.

Her first novel, What is left over, after, benefits from having the kind of title that made me want to read it without knowing anything about it. It sounds like the title of a Romantic-era poem, something from one of Coleridge’s contemporaries swiped for a contemporary take. I love it. The book is also pretty good.

The story follows the life of Gaelle, a young woman who’s just had her first baby – an event that should be surrounded by joy and congratulations, but is instead encircled by an impenetrable air of secrecy. Her confusion becomes the reader’s as time passes and Gaelle speaks with love of a baby who never appears. When Gaelle runs away from her own party, she meets a young girl who provokes her into beginning to give up her secrets.

Lester’s writing style reminds me of Sonya Hartnett’s, which probably reflects the fact that the book is aimed at a similar age group. It’s a simply told story, which can be either a strength or weakness for many novels; she avoids the danger of simplicity by using the sparse events and characters to crystallise the concern centred on Gaelle. An array of secondary characters flesh out Gaelle’s life without ever following back stories; select information about a chosen few supports the singular nature of Gaelle’s own life.

My one complaint is that I do wish it could have been longer, or that it sought to investigate her relationship with her husband a bit more. While it’s evident Gaelle’s husband is devoted to her, the total lack of perspective as to his experiences – or for that matter, what either one gets from their marriage – leaves me a little curious. However, as this is typical of the Young Adult market – the simplifying of certain relationships or aspects to focus on the critical thread of the novel – I surrender my objection.

I’m also just a bit irked by the tagline of the novel, something about denying her promiscuity. It seemed to me to totally miss the point and instead focus on a singular coping mechanism. As this is another common complaint I have of novels and movies – taglines chosen to titillate and intrigue rather than be at all representative – I’ll cede the point.

Georgia Claire

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