We all have those books. The ‘I fell asleep reading you’, ‘I dropped you in the bath’, ‘I covered you in crumbs as I devoured you over lunch’ – the un-put-downables that became like instant best friends or toxic lovers. To celebrate the powerful ways in which words can rouse us, we’re asking our favourite book bloggers to pen An Ode to A Tome, love letters to three books as penned by the authors and artists appearing in this year’s program.
This week, Sharon Traucki of Where The Books Go shares her heartfelt gratitude to the books she loves best: The Fragments by Toni Jordan, Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany and A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer.
So often I find myself looking for the lyricism of poetry in that heftier cousin, the novel. I am drawn to novels that: perform with poetry’s ability to carry us over vast emotional terrain; speak with poetry’s rhythm, begging to be read aloud; and create, as poems do, something pulsing with life and novelty from words alone.
Despite this, I must admit I had to look up the definition of an ode when the Melbourne Writers Festival team sent me their theme, in an attempt to understand the ways this form can engage with the novel. The answer, I found, lies in the nature of odes, of which there are three distinct types: Pindaric, Horatian and Irregular.
The Fragments by Toni Jordan
Pindaric odes are structured, complex beasts, sung by the many voices of a chorus, often to glorify athletic prowess. Replace ‘athletic’ with ‘literary’ and you have the recipe for Toni Jordan’s ode to the novel, The Fragments.
A literary mystery with all the right elements – a lost novel by a famous author, a tragic fire, the hint of not all being as it seems – The Fragments alternates between the voices of Cadence in 1980s Brisbane, and Rachel in 1930s New York as events and answers unfold.
All at once, Jordan writes a heart-pounding mystery, a tender romance, an exploration of the self and an intimate portrait of grief (also: multiple voices – tick. Glorifying prowess – tick). This, then, is the poem that carries us over vast emotional terrain.
Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany
Horatian odes, by comparison, are more meditative, designed for private reading rather than public performance, and are less formal. This is the world we slip into when reading Carrie Tiffany’s Exploded View.
While the novel itself has a clear structure, centred around a 1970s Australian family, the experience of being in the teenage protagonist’s mind is a deep, fluid one. Her outer world is rigid – those around her are called by their roles, not their names – and in response, she sinks further into sensory experiences and her interior world.
As readers, we see the signs of trauma, and watch her skirting the edges of acknowledging the sexual abuse she suffers. There is a knot of tension gradually being tightened throughout, but Tiffany’s writing floats, brooding on mood or sensation. Hers, then, is an ode to our minds and bodies and suffering – this is the poem that begs to be read aloud.
A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
Finally, Irregular odes, as their name implies, deviate from the norms, showing variety in all possible ways without completely breaking the mould. Angela Meyer has channeled this form in her genre-defying novel, A Superior Spectre; no average spine-chilling ghost story.
Meyer entwines the morally vacant Jeff, our unreliable narrator living in Scotland in the near future, with Leonora, a young women in the 1800s, through experimental technology.
Aghast, we watch as Jeff, addicted to the thrill of becoming another, imposes himself more and more on Leonora, skewing her life off kilter with devastating consequences. Meyer has written an ode to infamy with her protagonist, but has done so in an utterly new way that’s impossible to look away from; this is the poem that creates something pulsing with life and novelty.
Perhaps this piece should rather be titled The Tome as an Ode – the way each of these stories articulates poetic experience makes them breathtaking reads.
Melbourne, a flock of literary talent will soon alight on your doorstep. I urge you not to miss these unique, poetic voices, who are doing exciting things with what a novel is and can be.
Sharon Traucki is a Canberra-based author currently drafting her first novel – a historical fiction set on Easter Island in the 1800s. In 2015, she won the Harry Hartog short story competition with her entry ‘Who is Harry Hartog?’ Follow Sharon on Instagram and her blog.