‘Time was cut, dried, and nailed to the wall of the tiny wooden railway office.’
Cassandra (Cassie) Aberline has been estranged from her family for over forty years. But her recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia has her thinking of the past, of why she left Western Australia for New South Wales. Cassie undertakes a journey by train: back to the Indian Ocean from the Pacific, on the Indian Pacific. There’s an urgency to this journey, a journey Cassie needs to make while she still can, before she loses more of herself to Alzheimer’s. There’s a promise Cassie made to someone, before she left Western Australia, and a package she was given. While we find out, early in the story, what the parcel contains, it takes much longer to get to the promise. Cassie’s physical journey to Western Australia takes time, which enables her to remember aspects of the past mainly through different memories of her life on the east coast:
‘Do these memories tell Cassie anything new about herself? Do they reveal what needs revealing? Of course not—they come too late in the story of her life, and are all about doing, reaching, achieving, and, of course, concealing—mainly concealing. They show her only the mask she had donned, on that first long journey from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and had never taken off. With me, what you see is what you get. How often has she said it —to her colleagues, to her students? It is a lie, but one she considers true.’
Who is Cassie Aberline? Cassie has been an actor, and a drama teacher at university. Her specialty is Shakespeare. What from her past is important, and why? There’s unfinished business in Cassie’s life, a need to revisit the past to try to determine whether leaving was the right thing to do. If she wasn’t right, then Cassie wants to (somehow) make amends. But this need to put things right is less about the people Cassie left behind than it is about making sense of events and actions to determine what was truth. This is about Cassie’s understanding: her memory of life with her sister and father especially after her mother died, of her close relationship with the Blanchard family on the neighbouring farm.
‘She is trying to understand herself, the life she has created, but all she has to work with are disconnected fragments—half-remembered lines from long-ago scenes she can barely recollect. That is all the malevolent magic of memory allows.’
I picked this novel up after reading a review by a fellow book blogger. I am glad I did: I read it over two days as I could hardly bear to put it down. I was caught up, both in Cassie’s physical journey across Australia and in the journey through her mind as she tried to understand a life and memories that she thought she’s left behind. Life is never simple. Memories are never perfect, even when they are accessible.
‘The mind is a false creation, Mary says, and it’s not always true to us. We can’t worry about what is, or what is not. We just have to be who we are at the time.’