Bibliophile | Muddied memories unmuddled in ‘A Place Near Eden’

A Place Near Eden
by Nell Pierce
Allen & Unwin

Matilda (Tilly) was eleven when her parents fostered thirteen year old Sem. There were heated arguments between her parents as Tilly’s father was against the addition to the house. “Dad had a special voice that he used when he talked about Sem. It was a tone of accusation too. Directed not at Sem but at my mother, who had brought Sem into our lives.”

Sem had been in the foster system and was angry at the world. He kept running away and each time he disappeared it piled worry on her parents and put strain on the marriage. Once it was three days before the police found him and brought him home.

Many years later, Tilly looks back at that time when Sem was nearly fifteen and the summer that they spent long hours at the local swimming pool. With them was Celeste, who was also nearly fifteen, and lived downstairs with her artist mother in the house they moved to after leaving Tilly’s father.

Sem didn’t stay with them after that summer and Tilly and her mother eventually moved to Melbourne. It was five years after that summer that Tilly wonders what would have happened if she hadn’t gone to the party and reconnected with Celeste and Sem.

That next summer they spent together, house sitting a place near Eden for an artist friend of Celeste’s mother, would change all their lives. Sem appeared and disappeared while Tilly and Celeste found jobs in the local town and spent the rest of the time swimming, reading and drinking.

When Tilly woke up with a huge hangover one morning, having no recollection of the previous night with Celeste and Sem, she had to rely on Celeste’s account of events. But Celeste had a way of saying something with such confidence; she could make a story real.

Sem was missing and Tilly needed to sort out “the blurry mess of her memories” that existed inside her head and confront her suspicion that her misunderstandings, imaginings and inventions had pushed the truth away.

Tilly’s pursuit for the truth is muddied by the fact that her friend Peter was making a documentary about the lost boy. It made things even more confusing as he was interviewing people and removing truths in order to tell a story.

A Place Near Eden is an absorbing drama that makes you wonder what happens to the stories and accounts that don’t survive in memories … or documentaries.

Lezly Herbert


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