Elemental by Amanda Curtin

29077011._sy475_Fiction – Kindle edition. Scribe UK, 2016. Originally published 2013. 444 pgs. Purchased.

In the 1970s, towards the end of her life, Meggie Duthie Tulloch sets out to recount her life from a young girl in a fishing village of northeast Scotland to an émigré in Western Australia for her granddaughter. She complies her memoirs into a series of notebooks, separating the story into three parts based on the elements that defined her life in that moment (water, air, and earth). The story of her granddaughter, Laura, and her discovery of the notebooks makes up the final section – and element – of the novel.

The first section recounting Meggie’s childhood was the most compelling of the four for me. I so enjoyed reading about the spunky redhead trying to navigate her love of the sea with the expectations of her community. Like most fishermen, all of Meggie’s relatives believe women, especially those with red hair, bring bad luck to boats and try to confine her to shore as much as possible.

Her love her sister Kitta is beautiful and moving; I felt every bit of her frustration when the townspeople shunned her for reasons unknown to Meggie. And I felt this section showed off Curtin’s beautiful prose and the depth of her historical research.

Once Meggie leaves Roanhaven to work as a “herring girl” – brutal, demanding work that involves gutting fish on board travelers at sea – I found my interest her story started to dramatically wane. (This feeling is likely why I stopped reading the book back in 2016; my 22 percent read update on GoodReads roughly corresponds to end of Part One.)  I pushed onward, determined to finish a book that has received rave reviews from the Oz lit book blogs I followed.

I’m afraid I can’t say I ever quite rekindled the spark that was there in the first section of Meggie’s story. I found elements of her story compelling, particularly her arrival in Fremantle in 1910 and the impact the start of the First World War has on her, her marriage, and the one female friend who followed her from Scotland. But I just wasn’t enveloped in the setting and the story the way I had previously been.

This was especially true of the fourth and final part of Curtin’s novel. The story shifts dramatically in tone, style, and narrator as Meggie’s granddaughter and her daughter-in-law pick up the story in 2011 with Laura’s son, Cooper, admitted to the burn unit of a Perth hospital. (Hence this section’s element of “fire”.)

Laura finally receives her grandmother’s journals, which had been intended as a birthday present several decades earlier, and it was interesting to see her reaction to Meggie’s story. But I felt zero emotional connection to Laura, Avril, or Cooper and, unfortunately, ended the novel feeling rather underwhelmed with it. Such a shame given the strong and promising beginning.

Please feel free to share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: