Claire and Al vacation in Croatia and visit the Temple of Augustus. Al reads from his guidebook that the temple was nearly destroyed in an Allied air raid in 1944 and rebuilt in 1947. “They both looked at it, looking for cracks or signs of destruction. It looked sturdy. Flawless.” Recalling the story of her grandparents’ migration from Croatia to Australia, Claire “admired all the things you could survive”.
The same wonder at human resilience is felt when reading Victoria Hannan’s second novel, marshmallow, which follows five friends, all in their thirties, a year after a fatal accident. Though the portrait Hannan paints does not “admire” the grief with romance, it is imbued with its horrific reality.
The novel runs a little over 24 hours, and time flies as if every second is burned into the skin of its characters. Several pages are devoted to solitaire games, one page to a character looking at his body in the mirror, several paragraphs to describe the act of breathing.
This is evidence of Hannan’s prose marshmallow is not difficult reading. Her sentences are clean and lively, and she has a knack for pleasantly offbeat similes: “…there was a note in his voice that indicated how he was feeling. The choppy tone of extreme sadness, depression, devastation, anger. An orchestra joins in. The cacophony of grief.”
marshmallow is a character-driven work and each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the friends. The dynamic of this book is not forward, but rather downward. Advancing the narrative is unearthing more of each character’s past. Like a garden bed with a complex root system among its plants, the deeper the reader delves into each character’s life, the more intricate and intricate their stories become.
While the loss of a child is seen as the pinnacle of suffering – in this novel as in life – much of what is revealed by each character is more pain. The loneliness that can come from being single when all your friends are partners. Relationships that struggle to sustain as the cracks grief has created widen into chasms. Overbearing and cruel parents. Parents who need to be cared for like children. More sadness that resurfaces a long time ago. Be jealous of friends who earn more than you, or were born with more money than you, or both. Being forced to compliment a racist’s kitchen makeover to keep the peace at a partner’s work event. “It felt like a full-time job,” Al muses. “The juggling of all those feelings.”
Just like her debut kokomo, for which she won the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award, the savior that Hannan offers to counteract all this pain are the moments of joy one can grasp when surrounded by friends. In both books, characters sing to somber gold FM hits. in the kokomo, It’s the Beach Boys track that the book is titled after. in the marshmallowthe friends enjoy a car ride to sing along Walk like an Egyptian.
A character comments on the song’s cultural insensitivities. “Don’t spoil this for me,” says grieving mom Annie as she belts out the lyrics from the backseat. The reader feels it is not the song she is referring to, but the moment of lightness she was able to capture with it, as fleeting as something flying past them on the freeway.
https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/digging-into-the-deep-roots-of-five-friends-and-their-feelings-20220822-p5bbtz.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Victoria Hannan’s novel Marshmallow goes deep into the emotions