A little girl disappears in the wilderness. Two years later her mother is arrested for her murder. A provocative and unflinching literary novel of love, guilt and grief set against the wilderness of the Australian coast.
Recently divorced and trying to make sense of her new life, Anne takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilsons Promontory. In a split second, Aida disappears and a frantic Anne scrambles for help. Some of the emergency trackers who search for Aida already doubt Anne's story.
Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter's murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.
On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, as oppressive as the heat haze.
A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgement. This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood.
Olga Lorenzo is the author of The Rooms in My Mother's House, which was published in 1996 and shortlisted for various literary awards. She has won the Felix Meyer Scholarship and the Percival Serle Bequest at the University of Melbourne for her writing, as well as grants from Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, and a Varuna Fellowship. Olga has taught writing at RMIT University and in a variety of other Melbourne tertiary institutions for nineteen years, and has a Masters and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She previously worked as a journalist and sub-editor for the Melbourne Age.
The Light on the Water
Allen and Unwin
Author: Olga Lorenzo
Question: What inspired you to write The Light on the Water?
Olga Lorenzo: I had been through a relationship breakup, which of course is one of those experiences where you really need your friends to gather around you. It made me wonder what it would be like if society in general turned against you – if you were grieving for a lost child, which to me is about as bad as it can get, and people thought the worst of you, thought you were responsible for the child's loss. I wanted to write a book that was both harrowing and had moments of lightness and humour, because nothing in life is all bad and there is always something that we can laugh about.
Question: What research did you do prior to writing The Light on the Water?
Olga Lorenzo: I read everything I could about women in prison, and talked to a former senior policewoman as well as a criminal barrister. I asked them about legal systems and the processes when someone is arrested, and the experience of going to prison.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
Olga Lorenzo: I think that what happened to Lindy Chamberlain back in the eighties was a travesty of justice, but she has written eloquently about it and I didn't in any way want this to be her story. But I think we all learned from her case that sometimes people are too quick to make judgements. If we are not slow and sufficiently careful, we can turn against people out of prejudice, which does enormous harm. I was also inspired by my own years as a mother. I had three vibrant, fun, funny children who were only four years apart. It was hard to always keep track of them, and sometimes you think, there but for the grace… So I also wanted to explore maternal ambivalence and guilt, and I wanted it to be a complex story, because few things in life are straightforward.
Question: Why did you decide to set a part of the book at Wilsons Promontory?
Olga Lorenzo: The only reason I set it at Wilson's Prom is that it is an area I know quite well. When I had my children, we would spend as much as 8 weeks camping and walking there over the course of a year. One of my daughters was married in Tidal River in 2014. It is a very special place for our family.
Question: There are several issues raised in this book. Was this deliberate or did the story evolve this way?
Olga Lorenzo: It was deliberate. I was thinking of how hurt we are when we are driven out of our packs. Humans are quintessentially social beings and even a relationship breakup fires up those primitive fears of how, as children, we would die if we didn't have our parents. But I think we also still have vestiges of ancient memories that tell us that we need to stay with our kin, that we need to gather around the campfire at night, for the safety in numbers. To be driven out in ancient times meant certain death, and we still retain some of that fear. Yet sometimes we fail to show leadership within a family or a social group when someone is excluded or ostracized. I don't think we are doing enough for the asylum seekers who come to our country. There are many ways we could and should be taking a stronger stand, speaking out for inclusivity and diversity.
Question: What's next, for you?
Olga Lorenzo: When I had my third child, the hospital staff at one point brought me the wrong baby. I'm sure I ended up with the right child, but I am working on a novel in which a woman discovers that her fears have been right – the child she has been raising is not biologically hers. She manages to track down the other child born at the same time, and ends up having a relationship with that child's single father. They move in together, raising both daughters. But that child never accepts her mother. They say a novelist writes many versions of the one story; I can see that I am again writing a book about inclusivity and family.
Interview by Brooke Hunter