The landscape in and around Australian country towns in drought is brutal and unforgiving, and so too can the inhabitants of these towns be; as illustrated in Australian author Briohny Doyle’s second and recently released novel, “Echolalia”.
Living in a glamorous yet austere pink salmon house on Shoreline Drive in the town of Shorehaven, our protagonist Emma, thin and waif like yet hauntingly beautiful, has married up in the world by becoming the wife of Robert Cormac, golden boy of the local Cormac Dynasty. Emma appears to have a life envied by others. Her three children (a baby, Robbie, and toddlers Clem and Arthur), property developer husband and “Home Beautiful” style house should be enough to ensure she is “living the dream”, or should it? Arthur has a genetic disorder called ‘Fragile X’, which means he is nonverbal and exhibits erratic and unsociable behaviour (Emma is the carrier of this condition, and the guilt and shame overwhelm her). Arthur’s condition means that he is the focus of Emma’s world, despite the fact that she is nursing a newborn, and has a lively and inquisitive child in Clem.
Emma’s guilt over Arthur exacerbates her delicate and fragile inner condition, and at first appearances, Emma seems to be suffering merely a general malaise. However, as time progresses, Emma’s faulty thought patterns and behaviour become sinister and all consuming.
Pat (Robert’s mother) is the formidable, desperate and controlling head of the Cormac Dynasty. She is strong as steel and unyielding in her efforts to restore some semblance of normality to Emma and Robert’s lives, as Emma spirals further and further out of control. Pat is constantly ‘dropping in’ to the house at Shoreline Drive, and clearly doesn’t think Emma a very capable mother. She admonishes Robert regarding Emma that “We need to snap her out of it”.
The desolation and want in Emma’s spirit is mimicked by the town’s arid lake area (in which the lake is on the verge of being completely dried out), that can be viewed from Emma’s patio. Finally, the seemingly ineffectual and benign Emma loses her footing completely and becomes like a launched torpedo, committing an unthinkable crime that leaves others in it’s wake to deal with the tragic and fearsome consequences.
I found this book well written and at times difficult to put down. If you want a chance to be taken on a journey through the underbelly of rural Australia, then I recommend this book, despite the often dark and heartbreaking subject matter.