This Water: Five Tales by Beverley Farmer

‘Is the first time something ever happens to you imprinted for good?’

The five tales in this collection are two short stories (‘This Water’ and ‘Tongue of Blood’) and three of novella length (‘A Ring of Gold’, ‘The Blood Red of Her Silks’ and ‘The Ice Bride’.) Each features an unnamed woman, each explores a permeable boundary between our known world and the mysteries that might exist beyond it.  Such mysteries are reflected in various myths and legends.  Each of the women in these stories has (or will find) her own power.  It’s part of their female experience: based in nature and extended into legend or myth.  While I recognise some of those myths, what really held my attention in each story was the way in which Ms Farmer incorporates quite amazing descriptions of water.  Water (as ice) is a prison in ‘The Ice Bride’.  Water (as a vehicle) in ‘A Ring of Gold’. And what about the role of rings? Who owned the ring in ‘A Ring of Gold’?  Do such rings signify possession or ownership?  How does a reader’s own experience influence their reading of these stories?  I’d like to read these stories again in twenty years to see whether my own reactions change.

My favourite tale was ‘The Blood Red of Her Silks’. In this tale, a jealous stepmother turns a princess and her brothers into swans, forced to move between the sky, the water and the land for 900 years.  There is no happy ending (I wanted one, desperately).  While the permeable boundary can allow us to travel between our known world and the mysteries beyond, travel back may not be as easy.  Should it be?

‘A book is too small to live in but you make yourself small while you are in it, and ever after, and whenever it comes to mind.’

Beverley Farmer (7 February 1941 to 16 April 2018) was a Melbourne author.  Her works include four short story collections: ‘Snake’ (1982); ‘Milk’ (1983); ‘Home Time’ (1985) and ‘Collected Stories’ (1987).  She also wrote three novels: ‘Alone’ (1980); ‘The Seal Woman’ (1992) and ‘The House in the Light’ (1995). I’ve not yet read any of these works, but I will.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith