What The Ground Can’t Hold, Shady Cosgrove.
PanMacmillan Australia, 2013.
RRP: $29.99 Australian.
What The Ground Can’t Hold follows the stories of five unlikely companions forced to rely upon each other when they are trapped at an Argentinian refugio in melting and treacherous snow. Though all are from different backgrounds and walks of life, all have a link to Argentinia’s Dirty War…
From the blurb:
Two Americans are presumed dead and nine people are trapped in a cabin after an avalanche in the remote Andes…
Among them is Emma, an Australian faced with an impossible decision that could see her parents jailed. Jack, a teenager obsessed with Jack Kerouac, guided by a skewed moral compass. Carmen, a tango dancer whose estranged father is dying of cancer. Pedro, the cabin manager who’s in hiding from those who love him most and Wolfe, an American on a deadly family quest.
I have to admit that this isn’t usually my kind of novel. I usually find literary novels mind numbingly dull. However, Shady is Sub Dean of Creative Writing at my old University and with the book launch coming up on Saturday, I was interested to see how this debut novel panned out. I also love historical angles in my fiction. This is ironic as probably the part of the story I was disappointed in was the stuff dealing with the Dirty War. I don’t know much about this chapter in Argentinian history at all and the novel assumes that you do have that background knowledge. On the plus side, this means that characters feel very real and natural in their interactions with others, but it does make the story a bit confusing in parts for those who know little about Argentinian history.
I absolutely loved that we got to see five different points of view centred around reactions to the Americans leaving – and presumably dying – at the hands of an avalanche, with each person struck by a different aspect of the two boys personality. They both seemed like nasty pieces of work but depending on each character’s personal circumstance, depended on which piece of nastiness they most picked up upon. The writing is lyrical and beautiful, the landscape is so well described you start to shiver and the characterisations are spot on. Characters act like real people and they sound like it too! Even though each character speaks to us in the first person, Shady makes sure she differentiates each character with their own unique voice. The ending is suitably ambiguous given the nature of the moral questions that Shady poses about forgiveness, apology, fear and regret.
Though I would have liked more on The Dirty War, this wasn’t the point of the story, rather a facet of it. Instead,What The Ground Can’t Hold took me by surprise, didn’t let me go and has lingered on in my mind long after the final pages were shut.
What The Ground Can’t Hold: 4/5 inky stars
This review copy was supplied by the author through the South Coast Writers Centre