23.8 C
Byron Shire
March 3, 2024

Sweeney’s Tom swims fluidly among realities

Latest News

On Wallum

We seem to rely way too much on Byron Council and councillors to have the knowledge or expertise in...

Other News

Everyone reads The Echo!

The Echo loves your letters and is proud to provide a community forum on the issues that matter most to our readers and the people of the NSW north coast. So don’t be a passive reader, send us your epistles.

Damning 2022 flood housing audit released for Northern NSW

A performance audit of how effectively, or not, the NSW government provided emergency accommodation and temporary housing in response to the 2022 floods has been released by the NSW Audit Office. 

Man dies at unpatrolled Yamba beach

A man has died after being swept into surf at Pippi Beach, near Yamba, north of Coffs Harbour.

Investment fraud charges – Gold Coast

Detectives from the Financial and Cyber Crime Group have arrested and charged five people in relation to an alleged ‘boiler room’ investment fraud operating on the Gold Coast.

Seniors Festival returns March 11

The Byron Seniors Festival is back, and will be held from March 11 to 15 at the Byron Community Centre.

The Art of Woman highlights the upcoming Lismore Women’s Festival 

Friday evening saw a bountiful display of art at Lismore’s Serpentine Gallery celebrating the feminine and preluding the 2024 Lismore Women’s Festival. 

Sweeney_MinnowReview by Laurel Cohn

Although she has lost her immediate family, Tom is not alone. Aside from her best friend, Jonah (also orphaned by the flood), there is her beloved Nana, Nana’s friend Jonathan Whiting, Papa, the Minnow, Oscar and others.

Now I do need to explain that Papa is dead, the Minnow is an unborn child and Oscar is a fish, but those details are, in a sense, secondary to the role such characters play in Tom’s world.

Glenda Millard’s endorsement of the novel on the front cover calls it ‘Gorgeously strange and wonderfully told’.

And certainly Tom’s relationships with such a wide range of beings are part of what makes it gorgeously strange, as these characters not only occupy physical space in Tom’s reality, but offer advice and opinions that shape her understanding.

Take this exchange, for example:here is something about Tom, the narrator of Diana Sweeney’s debut novel The Minnow, that stays with you for a long time after the final page. Tom’s real name is Holly and the gender shift in name is emblematic of the instability of her world.

Tom’s younger sister, mother and father all drowned in the Mothers Day flood. At the age of fourteen she is trying to find a way through unfathomable grief and loss. But this is not a depressing or gloomy novel in any way.

As the publisher Michael Hayward noted in announcing The Minnow as the 2013 winner of the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, ‘It makes us understand sorrow and joy at the same time.’

It’s a cold Saturday afternoon. I’m mooching around Fielder’s Pets and Supplies. Mrs Blanket is away for the week (visiting her daugher) and Clare is looking after the shop. I am having a conversation with a seahorse called the Professor, who, it turns out, is a Buddhist. I’ve just finished telling him about the man who had the dream that lasted eighty years.

‘Fish don’t distinguish reality as separate,’ says the Professor, after thinking it over for about ten minutes. ‘In fact, it would be safe to say that we dream our reality, quite literally.’

Sweeney’s simple and spare style, characterised by short sentences and few adjectives, is well crafted. It matches Tom’s unembellished point of view and the naked reality of her situation. The structure of the novel shows a sophisticated understanding of how to engage the reader in the imaginative process of storytelling on the page.

Within the chapters the text is broken into short sections that move backwards and forwards in time and shift between dreams and reality. It is a very fluid movement and the reader is carried in different directions with the currents of the story, although it is never disorienting.

The construction of the novel is in itself an expression of the underlying theme: water. Aside from the devastating flood that carries away Tom’s sister and parents, much of the story is set in, on, under or near water. Water signifies life and death, comfort and fear. This duality is representative of the complexity of Tom’s world and her search to make sense of her circumstances.

One of Tom’s most endearing traits is her relationship with words. With a dictionary and thesaurus as constant companions her curiosity about not only the meaning of what has happened, but the ways in which we articulate meaning, is very engaging. Sweeney artfully slips in a sentence here and there showing Tom’s word obsession.

For example: ‘You’d have to be mighty serious about fishing to want a tackle box. I stop in front of the FishMaster Super Series. It comprises three layers that concertina for ease of access. It says that on the lid. I don’t usually use the word ‘comprises’, but I think it sounds just right.’ Aside from being delightfully playful, Sweeney is drawing our attention to the way stories are told, and to the choices we make in how to tell them.

I found The Minnow a pleasure to read and a remarkably accomplished first novel. Although it is marketed as Young Adult Fiction, I would recommend it to readers of any age. I’m very much looking forward to meeting Diana Sweeney at this year’s Byron Bay Writers Festival.

* Laurel Cohn will be chairing a session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival with Diana Sweeney and other Young Adult fiction writers.

All Writers Festival Articles


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Byron influencers

I'd love to know the fashion swimwear evolution for the Bundjalung people swimming at Tyagarah, 60,000, 50,000, 40,000, 30,000, 20,000, 10,000 and 250 years...

How would you stop koalas going extinct in the wild?

The strategy for koala conservation is currently under review and the community is being asked for feedback on the best ways to help NSW’s endangered koalas.

First Australian made and owned rocket test flight coming…

Gilmour Space Technologies is looking to put Australia on the map when it comes to space flight with the first test flight of an Australian-made and owned rocket coming in a few months.

Mandy gets back to a little virgin sacrifice

The virgin sacrifice is bak with Mandy Nolan bringing the Northern Rivers a new batch of comedy virgins coming to the stage.