Anchor Point by Alice Robinson

Some books I can read, put down, and never think of again.  This is not one of those books. I read this novel late last year, and have been mulling it over on and off ever since.

Anchor Point by Alice Robinson

‘The note was neatly creased.   A white square.’

As the story opens, Laura is ten years old.  She lives with her parents and her younger sister Vik on a farm.  Her mother Kath is a potter, trying to find time to create.  Laura’s father, Bruce, is angry when Kath disappears into her studio, ignoring housework and other demands of family.  Kath herself is angry.  And then she disappears.

A search fails to find any trace of Kath.  Where is she?  Is she dead? What has happened?  Laura knows something about Kath’s disappearance, but keeps it secret.  This secret becomes part of a burden of responsibility that Laura carries on her own for years.

‘But how was a family meant to look, after one of them had died?’

Laura grows up quickly, becoming a mother for Vik who, at five years of age, misses her mother terribly.  Time passes.  Vik grows up, and escapes from the farm, to a career in the city.  Laura leaves too, but returns when her father becomes ill.  Her own life is put on hold.  Again.

‘All her life, the small square of space reserved for herself was threatened, constantly under siege.’

The farm has been failing for years.  Bruce’s management of the land, as though it can be conquered and wrestled into submission, has resulted in the soil blowing away.  Clear-felling, erosion, flood, fire and drought wreak their own havoc.  And Laura?  What is her future?

This novel spans thirty five years, and has at least three separate aspects.  First, it’s Laura’s story: her life, her choices, the consequences.  Secondly, it’s about the environment we live in: how we seek to control the land, how different people relate to it and how, ultimately environment (physical and emotional) shapes us. Thirdly, it’s about the different ways in which people respond to circumstances, to change, to each other.  And right at the end of the novel, in the near future, is a reminder that the city is never separate from the country.

I found this novel incredibly moving, and at times uncomfortable.  I found myself wondering about each of the main characters and their choices.  About Laura’s capacity, sacrifice and strength.  And more broadly, about the way in which we seek to impose our will – on the land, on each other.  Yes, I think this is a novel I need to reread.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith