Lucy Neaves compelling meditation on love and its power – Sydney Morning Herald

Posted: October 10, 2021 at 1:52 am

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FICTION: Believe in Me, Lucy Neave, UQP, $32.99

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent, wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein. On the other hand, as Audre Lorde warns, your silence will not protect you. In Believe in Me, Lucy Neave charts a course between these two imperatives, putting the unsaid into words to reflect on the powerful effects of silence. This adroit, elegant novel follows Bet, a young woman living in Sydney in the early 2000s, as she tries to repair decades of miscommunication and reconstruct the story of her mother, Sarah.

Lucy Neaves second novel show how love is sustained over decades Credit:Hilary Wardhaugh

Bet draws on her memories and the fragmented words and images she finds in Sarahs scrapbooks to reveal a dramatic history. Sarah grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, in a devout churchgoing family that shielded her from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. As a teenager, she travelled to Idaho with a missionary. She was sent to Sydney alone after becoming pregnant, staying in a home for unwed mothers, and then raised her daughter as a single mother in Adelaide.

Distance is a fascination of Neaves. Her first novel, Who We Were (shortlisted for ACT Book of the Year in 2013), was also set between America and Australia, and Neave has lived in the US several times, including on a Fulbright grant. The distance between past and present is also a theme. Believe in Mes richest scenes bring to life textured accounts of America and Sydney in the 1970s and Adelaide in the 80s.


Sarahs experiences of predation and neglect, including at the home for unmarried mothers for which Neave drew on research into the Abbotsford Convent, are harrowing. As the book progressively tells the lives of Sarah and her daughter, it shifts between their viewpoints and offers fascinating, detailed scenes as well as lightly sketched fast-forwards through decades.

Believe in Me does not provide the kind of immersion in another time and place of, say, a Kate Morton novel. Published by UQP, known for its literary fiction list, Neaves novel balances storytelling with an explicit intellectual edge, a meta-commentary on the process of imagining. This scaffolding is foregrounded from the beginning, when the reader is told that little is known of Sarah and that Bets memory is unreliable. Like Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska, another mother-daughter story that is also a meditation on biography, the act of trying to understand is as much a focus of the novel as the life story it tells. The conceptual commentary feels somewhat cool, but delivers a satisfying payoff as the ideas in the book come together.

The interplays between silence and words, stasis and action, inner worlds and outer expression run through the novel. Sarah often seems to be a character to whom things are done, rather than one who drives the action. In Neaves hands, this apparent passivity becomes an intriguing trait. Sarahs religiosity means she tries to accept suffering as Gods will, but she also uses passivity strategically, as a form of strength. Neave skilfully creates a character who often refuses to speak or act, but who nonetheless crafts moments of drama, cunning, violence and, ultimately, self-fashioning.

One of the quiet ways both Sarah and Bet express passion is through the care of wounded animals. The novel opens with teenaged Sarah raising an injured fox from the woods outside her home, and Bet becomes a veterinarian (as Neave was for a number of years). This deep, wordless love for animals is a powerful touchstone in the book, a complement to other forms of connection that words cannot express: not only between people, but in how characters relate to themselves.

Believe in Me is a compelling meditation on love and its power to withstand long periods of misunderstanding and disconnection. The broad historical sweep of the novel allows Neave to show how love is sustained over decades. The friends, mothers and daughters in this novel are separated, but find their way back to each other. Imperfect, damaged love endures. As Bet promises, You will be known, Sarah ... I will try to make you known, at least to me.


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Lucy Neaves compelling meditation on love and its power - Sydney Morning Herald

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October 10th, 2021 at 1:52 am

Posted in Meditation