A review of Split, edited by Lee Kofman

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Split
True stories of leaving, loss and new beginnings
Edited by Lee Kofman
Ventura Press
June 2019), 320 pages, ISBN13: 9781925183870, $A32.99

There’s almost always a point of pivot in everyone’s life. Childhood ends, the world shifts, and the sense of self is transformed. Lee Kofman asked eighteen of her favourite authors to write to the theme of significant endings or splits. The authors she chose were diverse and the approach they took equally diverse. Without exception, all of the essays are beautifully written, focusing with the clarity of hindsight on the pain of loss, disconnection, and transformation.  All of the essays share a deep honesty and unflinching sense of conveying a powerful truth about what it means to be a human and the inherent changes that make us what and who we are.

Many of the writers, like Graeme Simsion, Myfanwy Jones, and A. S. Patrić, are novelists, and these essays provide a glimpse at their personal lives that is surprising and revelatory. Others like Fiona Wright, Ramona Koval, and Kate Holden are used to delving into their pasts to uncover something potent about the present and use the prompt to play with notions that are familiar in their work.  In all of the essays, the writing is lush, enriched by sensual detail and always a sense of the bigger story – perspective:

I walk past the post box past the brilliant sea and the salty air fills my lungs. The light of my home city is so different from Paris — strong, unfiltered. And I remember as I look at the seagulls circling, fishing in the waves, that love is everywhere, and as much as I still ache, I already know that one day when things have cooled down, I’ll know when it’s time tow rite about it. (“Paris Scorpion”, Gabrielle Lord)

There are stories about the discontinuity of migration, about leaving behind a controlling family, deliberately changing ones personality, disengaging from abusive (sometimes brutally) parents, abusive partners, the experience of crime (even murder), coming out, leaving a dearly loved job/vocation, letting go of the past – countries, languages and things, and the loving someone against a backdrop of tragedy as in AS Patrić’s philosophical musings among the ruins of Pompeii:

They will not have died, but even so there is a death that I mourn before it has come to pass. Fear of death is as theoretical, as it is whimsical, compared to the understanding that we already live within vast erasure spaces of our extinction. Or total mortality is beyond our experience, no matter the dread of the acceptance. The real fear might be in seeing how much of our living experience has already died in us. (“The Lovers of Pompeii”, 204)

The work is scaffolded around personal experience, and is often intensely personal, but there is always a sense that the writers are exploring the broadest possible meaning, so that the sensations become universal. Each of the writers brings a modern sensibility to their stories so that time conflates –the past informed by the wisdom and perspective of the present. All of the pieces are powerful, richly depicted, allowing the reader access to the very core of transition. Kofman has a well-tuned sense of what works together and the pieces flow together perfectly, each essay informing the work that surrounds it, so that the overall book feels interlinked. It makes for engaging reading that is emotionally powerful throughout.  Split was longlisted for ABIA Awards 2020 in the category of Small Publisher’s Adult Book of the Year, and it’s not at all surprising. This is a deeply enjoyable, moving book of essays by some of Australia’s most capable writers.  

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