‘Nic’s shoes had always worn unevenly.’
Forty-three-year-old Nicole (Nic) Miller lives on her own in Leichhardt, Sydney. She collects stuff: some because it needs a home, some because it might be useful and newspapers because they will increase her trivia-related knowledge. Nic cares for the local stray cats (which makes some of her neighbours angry) and works in a local store.
Nic’s niece, twenty-year-old Lena Harris, has moved to Sydney to attend university. She and Nic catch up over lunch each Sunday. Lena works shifts in a shop and lives in university accommodation. Lena’s had her eye on Josh for two months and looks forward to getting to know him more intimately. And she does.
On Sunday, when Lena goes to meet Nic for lunch, Nic doesn’t turn up. Nor does she answer her phone. Lena goes to her house. Lena is devastated to find Nic injured and unconscious under a mountain of stuff. She and the police manage to clear enough of a passage into Nic’s house for the paramedics to retrieve Nic, who is taken to hospital.
But clearing Nic’s house so that she can return to it is only one of the problems Lena has to deal with. Her encounter with Josh was filmed without her knowledge and has gone viral. Her phone keeps pinging with lewd photographs and comments. And then her brother Will turns up.
The story unfolds through chapters by Nic, Lena and Will. In Nic’s chapters, it is easy to see how (and why) she has become a hoarder. Nic is collecting memories and she does not see the objects she collects as inanimate. Each object has a story, a history. While Lena and Will are trying to clear Nic’s home to make it safe for her to return, Nc will be devastated. Through Lena’s chapters we see how dehumanising and devastating the video of her encounter with Josh is. She can keep herself occupied by clearing Nic’s home, but other aspects of her life are crumbling. And Will, who has lost his job and is coping with a relationship breakdown as well as physical pain from an infected tooth helps Lena but is caught up in his own issues.
Nic returns home, angry and upset about the amount of her precious stuff that Lena and Will have discarded. How can each of them move forward?
I found this a thought provoking read, with touches of humour and heartbreak. Each of the three characters was well developed, each of them came alive for me. Three people, caught up in family history, each needing to find a way ahead.