The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren

‘She could reinvent herself.’

Theresa sees ghosts. The ghosts that Theresa sees are the ghosts that haunt you, the ghosts which indicate how you are going to die. Mostly Theresa sees the ghosts of battered women: she works to find emergency housing for women in crisis. And how close the ghosts are gives an indication of how soon death might come. Theresa helps where she can, but one of her interventions leads to her being injured. Theresa, still grieving from losing the love of her life, moves from her home and job. She moves to be with her aunt and uncle, who’ve lost a daughter to suicide.

Grief is personal; it is both physical and psychic. In this novel, Ms Warren constructs a world in which grief has its own momentum. Theresa tries to recover her cousin’s art for her art and uncle. This takes her on a harrowing journey, into a physical grief hole from which few escape. Along the way, Theresa meets Sol Evictus. He’s a charismatic singer, loved by many. So why does Theresa think he needs to be destroyed? And, given that Theresa can see no ghosts around him, how can he be destroyed?

Ms Warren has written a novel which takes me into some horrible spaces, with no real confidence that there is any light in the tunnel. How can Theresa triumph against such evil? It seems like Sol Evictus is untouchable (except on his own terms). I kept reading: is this horror with lashings of fantasy, or vice versa? Does it really matter? While I’m hoping that Theresa will triumph, that various family secrets will be explained, and that her aunt and uncle will find peace, I’m thinking about the many and varied manifestations of grief.

The book’s artwork, by Keely Van Order, is perfect.

The novel ended. My thinking about it continues. I can see why this novel has won a number of awards, including the top fiction award at the 2017 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards, and Best Novel at the 2017 Ditmar Awards. I suspect I need to add Ms Warren’s other novels to my reading list. Powerful, disturbing, recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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