Here she is, standing in the schoolyard. She is six years old, dressed in a crisp green uniform. Other children are on the swings and seesaw, but she has taken herself off to stand alone under the eucalyptus at the edge of the playground.
Nothing Ever Happens Here: A Memoir of Loss and Discovery began its reading journey with me as my lunch time read at work. I was lucky enough to get an ARC in August, so I knew I had a nice long leisurely time to read it before it’s pub date in November. At the time, all I knew is that it was something different from Heather Rose and that it had a spiritual bent.
I was hesitant.
Going on someone else’s spiritual journey is not my cup of tea at all. But after the first few chapters I realised that what Rose had written was actually a grief and loss memoir, which is obvious once you read the full title of the book properly, which I hadn’t at that point! As many of you already know, grief and loss memoirs are one of my go-to genres, so it will come as no surprise to learn that I devoured the first three chapters, arriving back at work with tears in my eyes.
Every chapter begins with a quote of stanza of a poem – from the likes of Hafiz, Pablo Neruda, Osho, Khalil Gibran, Robert Frost, Arthur C. Clarke to name a few plus lines from her own personal letters and journal. Rose also lets us know that some names and narrative have been changed ‘to protect the identities of those who may not have wanted to be written about or chose to remain anonymous.’
I found this rather fascinating. I completely understand why some would wish to remain anonymous, but how do you write a story about your childhood and other significant life experiences, without some of the people who may have shared them with you, perhaps in very pivotal ways?
I guess this is where the creative writer part comes in handy, and why memoirs are often described as narrative non-fiction. It’s a story, populated with most of the real people and most of the real events. Timelines and timing can be tweeked to make the story flow better, that’s all part of the art. The honesty and authenticity (that is essential for a memoir if it is to connect with its readers) comes from the author’s own experiences and their understanding and intepretation of those experiences. That’s why we are reading the book in the first, because of some previous interest in the author or the topic. In this case, I had had a very fine time with Rose’s previous novels – The Museum of Modern Love and the Butterfly Man. I was ready to trust her, that she wouldn’t try to manipulate me, the reader, in any way.
Having said all of that, Rose’s memoir still took me to places I did not expect.
The natural world and the paranormal world are closely bound together in Rose’s life. Chronic pain is something she also manages every day. I will not go into details about all the different ways that Heather tried to work through her grief and loss. Her story does reminds me, though, that everyone has their own journey to take when it comes to losing someone, or multiple someones, you love. There is no right or wrong way, it’s simply your way. However, losing loved ones suddenly at a young age does seem to be one of those instances when the grief and loss process can continue well into one’s adult life. Rose certainly explored many different, unusual and sometimes extreme ways to process this grief. Some of her stories are not for the faint-hearted.
With compassion though, she explored all the ways that loss not only affected herself, but her family over time. This type of grief, compounded by feelings of guilt and ‘what if’s’, had roll-on effects for everyone concerned. Relationships changed dramatically, creating their own traumas.
Every lunch break, I would return gasping to my colleagues, “you’re not going to believe what she did next!” The lengths she went to, in an attempt to find peace of mind, were truly astonishing.
How do you finish a story that is clearly still a work in progress?
In this case, Rose chose to end with a number of simple statements to help all of us get through this life, to help us enjoy this ‘beautiful, mysterious, magical place to live‘. It’s always nice to be reminded to ‘start with love’, ‘to speak your truth’ and ‘trust your instincts’. It’s also nice to discover one worded in a new way that inspires – ‘swim in the beauty’.
I sincerely hope that Rose found some peace in writing this story. It’s an extraordinary tale of ordinary lives ripped apart by tragedy. Lives full of courage and love and determination. Flawed lives, where mistakes were made with traumas unintentionally inflicted, where relationships were constantly renegotiated and where forgiveness was eventully, graciously granted.
Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here is an author memoir you will never forget. Deeply personal, often uncomfortable, yet utterly compelling.
Title: Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here Author: Heather Rose ISBN: 9781761066320 Imprint: Allen & Unwin Published: 1 November 2022 Format: Trade Paperback Pages: 256 Dates Read: 18 August 2022 - 7 October 2022
|This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.|
17 thoughts on “Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here | Heather Rose #AWWmemoir”
Hmm, grief and loss memoirs are not among my go-to choices, and spiritual stuff even less so. I have a feeling that this will be a start-and-not-finish for me. (I have a review copy too).
I’ll be curious about that Lisa. I thought this would be a one lunch wonder too, but surprised myself by how caught up I got. She’s a good writer.
Oh, I know she is! The Museum of Modern Love was great, and While Bruny was not in the same league, I wouldn’t have missed reading it all the same.
But at the end of the day, I like reading novels, and while I might venture into memoir if it has some special appeal, this one doesn’t have that. And when we have to make choices about what to read, given the time that we’ve got, well, I’d rather start out expecting to like a book than not, if you know what I mean.
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Fair call. I try a lot of different books for one or two lunch breaks and then usually decide that’s all I need to know. I thought that’s what this one would be too. It was a surprsie package.
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This is an inspiring review. I read every word…and felt the emotion you put into this post. I cannot read the news these days without being confronted with situations in which I ask myself how do people survive such grief and sorrow. I left my thoughts drift and find the terrible massacres in USA (Ulvalde, Texas 2022 and Sandy Hook, Connecticut 2012) to be the most heartbreaking. Children…innocents…just unfathomable how parents must deal with this loss. As Lisa said, I’m not drawn to this genre but will visit Heather Rose’s book thanks to your words.
I sometimes wonder if I read this genre so compulsively as some kind of charm to keep tragedy at arms length. I know that grief and loss is something we all live with if we allow ourselves to love. Eventually we all die. I have already lived through some significant loss and grief events and curiously, find comfort in this sharing of stories. It helps me process my own feelings and often gives me other ways of thinking about it.
This would interest me … and I look forward to hearing her later this month. Thanks for the heads up.
Yes, we hosted a talk with Heather at work during the week that I had hoped to include, in part, in this review, but as yet have not had time to get to the recording of it, which has just gone up on our Youtube channel.
Hmm… I love Heather Rose’s fiction and I generally like memoirs, but not sure this is one for me… I’m intrigued what her loss/es involve, though, is it family deaths or something else?
Yes, family deaths when she was age 12 – an age that seems to be a pivotal one for young girls, I think.
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I’d forgotten about Bruny (and I haven’t read the Lord Lucan one) but I’m tempted to write Heather Rose off as a one hit wonder – MOML. Tim Winton’s memoir goes all spiritual – God is in the waves – and it turned my stomach.
I do understand. I normally struggle with books like that too, but somehow this one got to me.
Chapter 8 in Voss has seen me struggling with some of the religious symbolism stuff too. I’m finding it tedious rather than enlightening!