Borderlanders by Gillian Polack

‘Do you believe in magic?’

Meet Melissa. Melissa shares her life with both Hal, to whom she is happily married, and with chronic pain.  Melissa has strategies for dealing with her pain, but those strategies do not always work. Especially when the cause of her pain is not obvious to others. Melissa discovers that her artwork can produce magic, and a new journey is about to begin.

‘That’s it, isn’t it?  That’s what the magic does.  It shows the inside on the outside.’

Once upon a time, Melissa, Zelda, and Bettina were schoolfriends. Each of them is artistic, and all three of them receive a two-week creative residency in a mysterious old house near Robertson in NSW. Friendships and life evolve, different experiences change perceptions. Is it necessary to believe in magic to experience it?

Melissa struggles with and through the constraints imposed by her unlabelled chronic painfilled illness. She is more attuned to the possibilities of this restless, sentient house than her friends. Portals to other places open to her. Portals that Zelda does not see, and Bettina is frequently afraid of. Each will pursue her own creative endeavour with occasional help (and hindrance).

‘The portals are not equal in where they lead.’

There is a marvellous mystical library, magic in water, and danger in shadows. And not everyone means well.

The story unfolds. The lives of each woman: Melissa and Bettina are clearer for me than Zelda is; some of the challenges and fears each face; and the possible opportunities ahead.

‘People weren’t listening to each other.’

I enjoyed this journey, especially the sentience of the house, the imagery of the library and the views through some of the portals. Perhaps I should have been afraid at times, but I felt sure that, like all my favourite childhood fairy tales, there would be a happy ending.

I discovered a new word, as well, which I hated on sight, and will try to avoid hereafter: ‘suckitude’.

Recommended for readers of contemporary fantasy.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith