The Erratics is the 2019 winner of the Stella Prize, which celebrates female writers in Australia. There’s an interesting story to the lead up to that moment. The book had actually gone out of print after the original publisher folded, but it was since picked up by Harper Collins for re-publication.
Vicki Laveau-Harvie is a debut novelist, and The Erratics is a memoir of a difficult time in her life, coping with the demise of her elderly parents who she had gotten estranged from. The striking thing about the book, almost immediately, is her unique voice. It reads like poetry. Something rhythmic, like a haiku.
The bleak and harsh winter of Canada is the backdrop, described beautifully by Laveau-Harvie, which complements the cruelty with which her mother treats her father. Although a diagnosis is never mentioned, it is clear that her mother suffers from severe psychiatric illness – almost certainly a personality disorder, and possibly a concurrent mood disorder. The book delves into the devastating impact that psychiatric illness has on families, but it is written with a distance. It is almost unemotional. Laveau-Harvie does have a good sense of humour about her, which is dark and dry. I did catch myself having a little chuckle to myself at times, despite the intense tragedy of the book.
The glaringly missing thing from this memoir is any reference to childhood. Most children with abusive parents have complex trauma that affects them well into adulthood, which would have been an important piece for this memoir. The ending is also somewhat unsatisfying. However, the beauty of the book is really in the writing rather than the plot. It can be at times repetitive – her mother’s broken hip being referred to as “powder” one too many times – and the modern pop-culture references are a bit cringe-y, but there is no denying that Laveau-Harvie is a gifted and experienced writer. Her metaphors are original and delicate. This piece of narrative non-fiction is truly art.