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BOOK REVIEW: Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder

Friday, November 24, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Inspired by the author's own family experience. The Brennans - parents Finn and Bridget, and their sons, Jarrah and Toby - have made a sea change, shifting from chilly Hobart to a sprawling purple weatherboard in subtropical Murwillumbah. Feeling like foreigners in this land of sun and surf, they are only just starting to settle when, one morning, tragedy strikes - changing their lives forever.

Determined to protect his wife, Finn finds himself under the police and media spotlight. Guilty and enraged, Bridget spends her nights hunting answers in the last place imaginable. Jarrah - his innocence lost - is propelled suddenly from his teens into frightening adulthood. As all three are pushed to the limit, questions fly: Who is to blame? And what does it take to forgive?

A haunting and ultimately redemptive story about what it takes to forgive.


My Thoughts:

A few years ago I bought a novel called The Raven’s Heart by a writer I had never heard of, Jesse Blackadder. I was partly seduced by the cover and partly by the subtitle, ‘The Story of A Quest, a Castle, and Mary, Queen of Scots.’ It sounded just like my kind of book! And it was. I adored it so much I wrote to the author and told her so. Jesse wrote back to say thank you and to ask me if I would be willing to launch her next book for her. Chasing the Light was inspired by the story of the first women to travel to Antarctica. I was intrigued enough by the premise to agree to read the book, and then – once I had read it and loved it – to launch it. So Jesse and I met for the first time at Chasing the Light’s book launch in 2013 and we’ve been fast friends ever since.

We’ve attended festivals together in both Australia and the UK, and last year spent a close-bonding week together as part of the Byron Writers Festival ‘Five Writers Road Trip’ around far northern New South Wales. Jesse told me that she was working on a novel inspired by a family tragedy that had had a powerful shaping force upon her life and her imagination. When Jesse was twelve, her two-year-old sister had drowned in their backyard pool. Jesse had tried to grapple with this catastrophe in her fiction before, but it had always been too raw, too close to home. As the 40th anniversary of her sister’s birth approached, however, Jesse had experienced a moment of epiphany. The story of Sixty Seconds had sprung into her imagination, demanding to be told.

Although it is inspired by true life, Sixty Seconds is a work of fiction. It begins: ‘The boy steps into this day like he owns it – like he is, in fact, God and has conjured this up with a sweep of his hand before breakfast: this achingly blue sky, this currawong sending out a ringing call from the verandah post, this water dragon sunning on a warm rock to loosen her scales, cocking her head and blinking a yellow eye in his direction.’

It’s a moment of easy joy and summery beauty, made heartbreakingly poignant by the tragedy we know is about to happen.

Sixty Seconds articulates what must be every parent’s greatest dread. The death of a beloved child, the grief and horror and guilt, ‘the seismic shift’, as Jesse calls it, which changes everyone’s life. Told in alternating chapters between the points-of-view of the boy’s father Finn, his mother Bridget, and his elder brother, Jarrah, the book moves forward from this point of shock, and shows how the ripples affect the whole community. Each voice is distinctively different. Jarrah speaks in first person, Finn in third person, and Bridget – most interestingly - in second person (and present tense). It’s a bold and unconventional narrative choice, but it works. Each chapter is very short, and so the fractured narrative structure of the book reflects the shattered family unit. As Bridget reflects, ‘the three of you – Finn, you, Jarrah – clinging to each other, rain-slicked, like shipwreck survivors. All looking in different directions.’

There is always a danger of melodrama and sentimentality when writing of tragedy, but Jesse never veers anywhere close. Her language is simple, direct and powerful. The story has tremendous pace, as the ramifications of the boy’s death reverberate through the grief-stricken family. Secrets are revealed, choices and mistakes made. At the heart of the novel is the question: can anyone recover from such a loss? If so, how?

The final chapters of this beautiful novel gave me chills all over my body, and such a lump in my throat I could not breathe. Both haunting and heart-rending, Sixty Seconds is as much a story about the redemptive power of love as it is about the terrible power of grief. I know some people will be afraid of reading it, afraid of how close it may cut to the bone. I can only urge you to read it anyway. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece. 


You might also like to read my 2013 interview with Jesse Blackadder


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

Comments
Anonymous commented on 07-Dec-2017 10:29 PM
I loved Jesse Blackadder's interview on Richard Fidler as well, will definitely check this out.

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