Tantony - Ananda Braxton-Smith

"I could only think about my brother from a distance.  From a distance he could be an idiot or a son-of-the-moon;  from a distance but a different angle he could be a prophet and a Venerable.  Right up close to him, though, he was just a mess of whittering and birdshit - and with my face, too.

He'd taken our face to town, into the market and the harbour, and he'd done and said such things as made folk stare at me slip-eyed and mutter.  I'd learned to sit dumb as rock and deaf as bugs.

After a while longer I'd learned to hurl my mind-eye away.

Faraway.  Into the clouds and out to where the sea and sky meet.  Out there I could snug into the skytowers, see only my feet dangling, hear only the winds rushing.  Faraway, there was only the blue water spreading far below, my legs swinging above, between them just clouds and seabirds."
Tantony by Ananda Braxton-Smith makes me yearn for somewhere I've never been and which doesn't exist, but whose scent nevertheless comes in on the occasional breeze.  Her writing is so densely layered, like a decades-old compost heap, rich and earthy.  I read books too greedily, consuming them like a Westerner, eager for the next sentence so that while my racing mind thinks, "I didn't quite get all of the gristle out of that last para; I should go back and read it again,"  by then I'm already halfway through the next, swallowed by the too-small seconds of life, eating the words whole without chewing.  Ananda's writing is so lush that I actually want to go back again, just to roll the words round in my mouth one more time, to be a little startled by what I see upon second chewing.  No mean feat.

Characters feel defined and at the same time mysterious and shifting.  Boson Quirk is half in this world and half in the next.  His increasingly bizarre behaviour (bipolar psychosis we would probably call it today) put them on the outside with the townsfolk, and now his twin sister Fermion has begun hearing the voices that haunted her brother before the bog swallowed him whole.  Dreams and visions versus mental illness;  a desire to understand the real beyond the superstition, to find that which she can stand on through the harshness of the world, swirl around Fermion as she sets out on a journey of her own to try to find some answers about her brother, herself, her family, and how to keep them from falling apart.  The setting is dreamy, where everything blends into one so that your footing in the story feels sometimes as precarious as the bog upon which the fictional Carrick stands.  Ananda's writing shines different lights from different angles so that I suspect she would achieve fresh-seeing and poetry and otherworldliness via a novel set in contemporary times.  I would really love to read that.

Though I didn't want to leave here.  This is the second book in the Secrets of Carrick series.  The protagonist of Merrow, the first book in the series, Neen, lives in the village of the island of Carrick while in Tantony the Quirks live on the outskirts in the bog.  All three books in the series are stand-alone stories, occurring over one summer in the fictional Middle Ages island of Carrick.

Fermion's poetic tongue that gives an otherworldly feel to the prose.  Braxton-Smith's sentences drip beauty and dreamy, and have that "once upon a time" feel of the fairytale where time is both nowhere and somewhere, inside and outside.  Not everybody's cup of tea I'm sure, but it's what makes this book so beautiful to me, a meditative slow-down. 

Having said all of that, it always amazes me how it has to be the right time for you and a story to come together and alchemise.  When I first read Merrow last year something fell flat for me in its reading.  Whether digestive, hormonal, seasonal or mental I can't rightly say.  But with Tantony, I was there.

This book is categorised for ages 13-19 years but it defies that categorisation.  I'm 42 and I can't wait for the next installment. It doesn't feel just like a book for young adults.  It feels ageless.  If there are any adults who are resisting reading fiction that is categorised as young adult, there are a lot of wonderful books you are missing out on.   This is one of them.

Part of the Australian Women
Writers Challenge 2013

At the expense of digression I must say that I knew Ananda in another life.  But still I would praise this book even if her, Peggy Hailstone and I were not fellow students together at Deakin Uni in the late 1990's, a triumvirate of mature-aged Creative Writing students in a mass of young 'uns.  I live in the same area now as she did when I sat in her kitchen eating homemade basil pesto and pasta, and I have a horrid, horrid feeling swirling in the pit of my guts that the person I saw smiling at me outside the supermarket one day a year or so ago was Ananda.  But (a) I was having a bad, bad day and (b) I am awful with memory, faces and names and (c) I'm vague as to be almost useless.  On that day I was feeling weird and depressed and paranoid, and I made the snap assumption that the woman smiling at me was either (i) mad or (ii) mistaking me for someone else and so (rather strange behaviour for me) I put my head down and walked into the supermarket.  It took two weeks for me to link the face with my bog-crap memory so that one day, driving down the road, Ananda's name swirled to me out of the mists of the late 90's.  Now, looking at her photo in this interview, I am rather perturbed that it was in fact her.  And so I just want to take the opportunity to say that if that was you, Ananda, I apologise, from the midsts of my premenopause and pyroluria to say sorry for being such a weird, rude ole cow :)