Between Water and the Night Sky by Simone Lazaroo is a novel that’s light on plot, instead focusing strongly on character and emotion. It’s understated, and yet remarkably effective at drawing you into the central characters’ lives.
The novel opens with the death of the narrator’s mother, Elspeth. Elspeth has lived a quietly remarkable life, one that involved a great deal of coping alone. The White Australia policy was still in force when she married Francis, an Eurasian Singaporean. She has little family support. She does not fit well in Singapore. However, when they migrate back to Australia, it is not only Francis who struggles to fit in.
In reflecting on how to honor her mother, and how she feels about her death, Eva reflects on what she knows of her mother’s life. A portrait emerges of a woman who seemed in some regards to let her life be dictated by others, and yet who showed considerable strength and courage.
This story really only has three characters: Elspeth, Francis, and their narrator daughter Eva. Others are mentioned, of course, but none are presented in any depth. Even Eva is remarkably absent from the narrative. This is a very internal novel, and much of it is internal to Elspeth.
This novel seems to lack dramatic high points, and on first glance not a lot happens. Then you consider how much personal grit was required to navigate many of these seemingly small moments, and it begins to seem that the pages are packed with significant events.
Without ever explicitly saying it, Eva shows how difficult Francis’ and Elspeth’s marriage was. Cross cultural marriages were neither common or easy at the time. Racism and sexism was rife. Elspeth was almost certainly affected by a childhood trauma that is only revealed late in the novel. And yet, for many years, they persist.
I found this a quietly affecting novel. It’s actually a little hard to write this review, because it’s such a subtle novel. There are no big characters, moments or gestures to comment on. The impact of the novel is generated with such delicacy that it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes it so effective.
Although challenging to review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. It lands more on the side of sad than uplifting, but is a truthful and illuminating portrait of a marriage facing both everyday and extraordinary challenges. I enjoyed the subtle approach, and the excellent, understated writing.
ISBN: 9781760 991845
Copy courtesy of Fremantle Press (2023)
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Between Water and the Night Sky by Simone Lazaroo. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .