The Anniversary by Stephanie Bishop is a novel that – I suspect – could divide its readers. Including me. I mean, it’s not that I didn’t like it because I certainly did. But my various personalities prevaricated between adoring Bishop’s glorious writing; feeling frustrated at things obviously being kept from readers or made little sense (which could potentially be plotholes); while at the same time wondering if I’m too obtuse to understand the not-necessarily-logical order in which elements of the plot flowed.
by Stephanie Bishop
Published by Hachette Australia
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Literary Fiction
Novelist JB Blackwood is on a cruise with her husband, Patrick, to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Her one-time professor, Patrick is much older than JB. A maverick when they met, he seemed somehow ageless, as all new gods appear in the eyes of those who worship them. He is a film director. A cult figure. But now his success is starting to wane and JB is on the cusp of winning a major literary prize. Her art, that has been forever overseen by Patrick, is starting to overshadow his.
For days they sail in the sun. They lie about drinking, reading, sleeping, having sex. There is nothing but dark water all around them.
Then a storm hits. When Patrick falls overboard, JB is left alone, as the search for Patrick's body, the circumstances of his death and the truth about their marriage begins.
There’s no question Bishop’s a talented writer. Thankfully not arrogantly so, in the way that one (well, someone like ME) reads their writing and realises that I’m not the target audience or meant to understand what’s happening. Rather, her prose is/are eloquent but at the same time accessible and relatable.
In many ways the narrative is delivered in a logical way, but at the same time a lot of stuff just didn’t make sense. The way in which JB is questioned on board the ship for example and seemingly released into the wild with limited concern about her welfare or the shipping company’s liability. I’m fairly sure someone whose husband died on a ship under tragic circumstances would have the red carpet rolled out and been taken care of. Randomly choosing a hotel – despite the fact she would have already had a booking – when arriving in Japan, and then travelling (unsupported by officials and Embassy reps or anyone) to see her husband’s body seemed kinda weird and surreal.
What follows is a mixture of the unfathomable and unfeasible. I can understand someone (inadvertently) being steamrolled into a number of events but it felt a little shambolic. Having said that JB’s reaction to the situations felt quite real and she realises she’s operating on autopilot, or possibly numb. Nevertheless, the events of the days or weeks following the her husband’s death seemed farcical and very very unrealistic for someone with minders of her own as well as those of her husband. Though I guess in some ways, Bishop’s prose reflect JB’s state of mind…
I felt weak with exhaustion. All distinctions between wakefulness and sleep had been eroded; I was a misplaced creature in the daylight, a nocturnal animal wrong passing through hour after hour in which the world seemed too bright, too strange. I was, again, queasy with fatigue, disoriented by my new location. I could be anywhere, I felt I was nowhere. p 94
Bishop takes us back and forth in time, through JB’s memories before we get the answer we’ve been waiting for. I think. Like I said, I felt kinda obtuse cos I think we learned what happened but I wasn’t entirely sure. Did I miss something? Or was it subtle? And then… a rush to the climax and epilogue.
There were some missed opportunities to get to know JB better that aren’t pursued. Reference is often made to her childhood and the disappearance of her mother with (initial) comparisons to her husband. She was young at the time so confused, but still seems vague on what happened, which I believe became the basis of her latest award-winning novel. Though then we learn she also added additional detail about her marriage so I was left confused about the novel’s focus.
In addition to Bishop’s writing I enjoyed the insight we got into marriage and professional partnerships, particularly when one partner has more power than the other. JB and her husband collaborated in their work and there’s a sense their relationship became more about that professional codependence than affection and romance.
The Anniversary by Stephanie Bishop was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.