Aussie Book Review: Nest by Inga Simpson

"A gripping and thought-provoking novel about finding the lost child in all of us.

Once an artist and teacher, Jen now spends her time watching the birds around her house and tending her lush sub-tropical garden near the small town where she grew up. The only person she sees regularly is Henry, who comes after school for drawing lessons. When a girl in Henry's class goes missing, Jen is pulled back into the depths of her own past. When she was Henry's age she lost her father and her best friend Michael - both within a week. The whole town talked about it then, and now, nearly forty years later, they're talking about it again. Everyone is waiting - for the girl to be found and the summer rain to arrive. At last, when the answers do come, like the wet, it is in a drenching, revitalising downpour..."

Suffering the effects of her broken relationship and the recent death of her mother, Jen Anderson has recently found herself back in the town where she grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Preferring her own company and the beauty of the forest and the bird life that surrounds her dilapidated cottage instead of the gossip-mongering of the townsfolk, her only visitor is a young high school student by the name of Henry to whom she gives art lessons.

When Henry arrives for his lesson one day after school, she notices that he is not his usual self and asks him what is wrong. He tells her that his friend, Caitlin, has disappeared and has been reported missing.

Immediately, thoughts of a twenty-year old mystery are brought to mind – thoughts of her best friend Michael who also disappeared without a trace and her father who abandoned them – and she finds herself examining her own feelings of loss and disenchantment with the life she has lived.

If you’ve ever sat in the midst of a thicket of trees and just given yourself up to the overall beauty and sounds surrounding you, you will love this new novel by Inga Simpson which, I have no doubt, will also inspire you to learn more about our beautiful Australian flora and fauna.

A novel which I considered to be quite timely and like salve for my soul during a time in which I was experiencing a great deal of stress in my life, the themes which wind their way through the narrative such as abandonment, mental illness, loss and regret resonated strongly within me as I found myself immersed in Jen’s gentle soliloquy both to nature and herself.

Inga’s words meander like some of the paths that Jen takes in the novel and, although at times her thoughts can be slightly dark, Inga balances this out with the beautiful birds, scenery and happiness that comes of Jen savouring the sights and sounds that she wakes up to every day, almost like opening a new gift but at the same time building her own nest.

Her skilful use of dialogue as well as Jen’s reflections indirectly offer up details about what has happened in her life so far which is made even more compelling by her use of third person narration.

Long-listed for the 2015 Stella Prize, Nest abounds in vivid description and detail, from Jen’s remembrances to the flora and fauna which surrounds her, whilst Inga’s beautiful prose with poetic nuances, draws you in to the world that she inhabits.

Richly atmospheric and enchanting, Nest is, at its heart, a story about real life – survival, hope, love, disappointment and complex relationships – and how we shuffle the cards that life has dealt us.

I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with a hard copy of this fine novel.

About the Author

Inga has a PhD in Creative Writing from the Queensland University of Technology. She has published academic and non-fiction articles, including in Clues, Writing Queensland, and the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Her first career was as a professional writer and researcher, including stints for federal Parliament and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Mr Wigg, her first novel, was published as a result of participating in the 2011 QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program and was short-listed for an Indie Award and long-listed for the Dobbie Award.

She is also the winner of the 2012 Eric Rolls Nature Writing Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2009 Queensland Premier’s Award for best emerging author. Her short story, "In the Wake of the Raftsmen" was published in the Review of Australian Fiction (Vol 5, issue 3).

Inga lives among trees in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. She is currently completing a phD in English Literature through the University of Queensland, looking at Australian nature writing and also leads writing retreats, workshops and offers a handful of mentorships each year through Olvar Wood.


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