Review - NEST, Inga Simpson
Wonderfully evocative and beautifully delivered, NEST was utterly mesmerising.
I'm very grateful that the inclusion of NEST in the 2015 Ned Kelly Submissions meant that this wonderful book by Inga Simpson came to my attention. I'm not sure that I'd call this a crime novel, but it's beautiful, engaging and extremely readable.
Reflective and languidly paced, NEST sees Jen Vogel return to the bush town of her childhood. Her mother has recently died, her long-term relationship ended and Jen has returned to her "nest", to the place where she feels safe. A wildlife artist, the garden that surrounds her new home is full of the birds that she loves, and the book takes considerable time to describe the birds, their movements and her interaction with them. It's beautifully done, as is the friendship and mentoring that she builds with a young, teenage artist she is tutoring.
Lurking under the surface of this idyllic, but obviously withdrawn life, there's some past mysteries including the disappearance of a young boy Jen had been friends with as a teenager, and the current disappearance of a young girl in the community. This is obviously the "crime" aspect that triggered the inclusion of NEST in the Ned Kelly submissions, but it's not the point of the book. NEST is much more about change, loss and coming to terms with the past so that the future can be lived.
The storytelling style suits this aim perfectly. It's beautifully paced, rythmic, and full of vivid descriptions, but it's the emotion that is the most elegantly done. Whilst Jen is particularly introspective, and obviously thoughtful and reflective, there's nothing overwhelmingly melancholic about her life. She's obviously sad about a number of things, and seeking to understand much from her past, but she's connected so strongly to her garden, and the surrounding landscape that there's a wonderful feeling of hope and contentment as well.
Once an artist and teacher, Jen now spends her time watching the birds around her house and tending her lush sub-tropical garden near the small town where she grew up. The only person she sees regularly is Henry, who comes after school for drawing lessons.
When a girl in Henry's class goes missing, Jen is pulled back into the depths of her own past. When she was Henry's age she lost her father and her best friend Michael - both within a week. The whole town talked about it then, and now, nearly forty years later, they're talking about it again.
Everyone is waiting - for the girl to be found and the summer rain to arrive. At last, when the answers do come, like the wet, it is in a drenching, revitalising downpour.