Growing into pain, not out of it: Anchor Point by Alice Robinson Review

I bought Anchor Point by Alice Robinson at Readings bookstore on Lygon St. as a random selection for my introduction to Australian literature. Taking place in the farmlands around Victoria, this novel delivered in terms of its Australian-ness. The whole novel is pastoral, sweeping paddocks and dirty hands birthing sheep, even after fire has breathed over most of the land, the prose that describes the farm is like an oil painting: thick, rich, vivid.

This novel follows Laura, who lives her life haunted by how she handled her mother taking off on her family when she was ten. She shoulders the responsibility of both daughter and mother to her younger sister, Vik, and wife in a lot of ways by helping her father tend to their farm. We follow Laura throughout her whole life, through love and loss, through college and moving to the city and eventually being drawn back home. And Laura never seems to grow out of the old scars her abandonment has left on her and the secrets she’s kept from the rest of her family. At the end of the day, this novel is truly about how the people who raise us shape who we are. About how we never outgrow pain that isn’t given the room to heal. In this way, this novel is gripping. It starts out quite slow, but its pacing is true to life. As a reader, you become entangled with these people and the choices they make.

In a cliffnotes version of this book, Laura’s life would probably seem very sad. She doesn’t really accomplish anything. She only leaves her farm once to live in Sydney, and eventually returns. She doesn’t have a husband or children of her own. After a lifetime of shouldering other people’s pain, she seems to not have ever gotten very much from her life. But that’s not really the point of this novel at all. There were many poignant lines that I marked while reading this book, but I think the one that most encapsulated the story for me is from its last segment, when Laura reflects on her father’s death: “Laura saw how valiantly the body fights to go on, how vibrant life is, even in dying” (218). At the end of it all, this novel is about beauty: natural beauty in the earth, finding emotional beauty in familial relationships, the beauty in pain and suffering. By the end of the novel, Laura watches fire lick the inside of a Melbourne fireplace, not lost on the audience that fire is what stole prosperity from her family’s farm all those years ago, causing the turmoil that cost her her childhood. And all she can think about is the dissipation of a plane’s contrails, that smoke just disappears when it can’t be seen by people anymore. Maybe people just disappear and everything we’ve cared about, read about for 258 pages, also disappears, and the only thing that really matters is that we spent all those years trying our hardest to do what we believe is best, even if it turns out we were wrong.

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