Friday 14 October 2016

Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser

This slim, stylish short story has got under my skin.

I wasn't really expecting it to - before, during or immediately after reading it. But somehow, two days later, Springtime has subtly tiptoed into my imagination and opened up a whole host of possibilities.

The power of de Krestser's story is in her descriptions and in the very looseness of form that she plays with.

The images are vivid and the form is ripe for individual interpretation.

At a dinner party, halfway through the book, our protagonist, Frances, and the host, Joseph, discuss the nature of ghost stories with the other guests.

The ghost story discussion goes like this,
'Do you know this idea that electricity put an end to ghost stories? People stopped seeing ghosts when rooms were properly lit.'
George Meshaw said he didn't think it was the change of lighting. 'The way stories were written changed around that time. Ghost stories work up to a shock, but the modern form of the short story is different. When a loose, open kind of story came in, writing about ghosts went out.'
We know what to expect.

De Kretser tells us on the front cover that this is going to be a ghost story. Therefore when Frances sees a shadowy figure in a pink dress, that no-one else can see, whilst Frances is out walking along the Cooks River in Marrickville, with her rather nervous dog, we're not surprised.

The surprise comes from the lush, steamy, wet weather of a Sydney summer through the eyes of a Melbournite. The disquiet comes from Frances' relationship with her new partner - an older, recently divorced man. The anxiety creeps in as we learn about her childhood dreams and meet the knowing young son of her partner. Who is haunting who?

And what form does the haunting take?

Is Frances haunted by unmet ambitions and desires? Troubled by cold hard reality? Preyed upon by other peoples histories and memories? Consumed by strange smells, colours and textures? Swamped by the consequences of her unwise choices?

What is very clear is that Frances is not comfortable in her skin or in her new life. She doesn't belong.

Springtime is only a short story, but de Kretser has actually packed a lot in, when you take the time to unpack it.

My lovely gift hardback edition has several coloured plates from artist Torkil Gudnason. His elegant floral designs also grace the covers.

This book is my one and only feeble attempt to join in R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril this year.

Peril of the Short Story allows me to fit in one quick, easy scary book and still feel like I've participated in something fun! You have until the 31st October, if you'd like to join in too.

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