Recently divorced and trying to make sense of her new life, Anne takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilsons Promontory. In a split second, Aida disappears and a frantic Anne scrambles for help. Some of the emergency trackers who search for Aida already doubt Anne's story.
Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter's murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.
On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, as oppressive as the heat haze.
A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgement. This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood.
Olga Lorenzo is the author of The Rooms in My Mother's House , which was published in 1996 and shortlisted for various literary awards, including the IMPAC Prize. Olga has won the Felix Meyer Scholarship and the Percival Serle Bequest at the University of Melbourne for her writing, as well as grants from Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, and a Varuna Fellowship. She has taught writing for 17 years at RMIT University and various other tertiary institutions, and has a Masters and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She previously worked as a journalist and sub-editor for the Melbourne Age.
An intense and evocative read..sometimes it is almost too painful.
My View: Evocative, intense, emotional and at times painful to read. This novel pierces the heart; brilliant.
At first I could hardly bear to continue reading, the pain that Anne feels and the pressure she faces is almost too much to bear. These are powerful pages, tension is high, my empathy freely given. Anne’s story is just so so sad. We can feel her love for her children and the pressure that mothers face when in the public eye, always judged – judged by appearance, behaviour, attitudes, judged by the behaviours of our children, deemed responsible for the behaviours of our children. So much pressure. The media then adds its own high dose of judgment. Too often we forget to ask – what is the point of this article, whose opinion is this and what are they trying to achieve; once words have been printed, read or spoken, they cannot be taken back.
Family and relationships are reflected upon. Motherhood is exposed – the good and the bad. This narrative is not afraid to ask the difficult questions about relationships; to probe and prick our collective and individual consciousness. Family violence is aired, almost normalised - are you upset by this – I hope so, I think that is the authors intent and to show that cycles don’t have to be repeated.
Power/powerlessness is also a theme of this narrative. Institutionalized power, in our courts, policing, schools, legal system, prisons, detention centres; the power imbalance and the dehumanising ways we treat people involved in such systems is shocking as are the judgements we are passively making within these systems. It seems like everyone is considered guilty, of… something, anything, before an individual has even had a fair hearing. Social media and online bullying reflects this attitude; so much anger, so much entitlement to anger is a worrying thing. We are all too quick to judge, to make assumptions, what ever happened to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? Trial by media, all forms of media, is bought into question here.
This narrative explores so much of the ugly side of society but is not without some redemptive features/characters. Sandra gives us all hope. Sandra is open, loving and accepting. We need more Sandra’s. We need more friends like Linda to support us.
A wonderful exploration of grief, blame, judgements, the meaning of motherhood, of family, identity, marriage, responsibility, relationships, power and survival and love. Such power in the written words – your heart will be pierced by their thorns.
The Light on the Water by Olga Lorenzo is a thoughtful novel exploring a myriad of the themes, most notably motherhood, grief, guilt and love.
Two long years after her young autistic daughter disappeared during an overnight hike, Anne Baxter is on the precipice of being charged with Aida's murder. Shunned by her neighbours and vilified by the media, Anne waits...and hopes.
This is a story that focuses on character rather than action. Anne is a hugely sympathetic character, trapped in a hellish kind of limbo. The main figures of The Light on the Water are complex, and Lorenzo avoids many of the typical stereotypes of the genre, even with the dysfunction that plagues the members of Anne's family.
Of particular note is the manner in which Lorenzo explores the response of the wider community to Anne's plight. From almost the moment Aida is reported missing, Anne must endure the suspicion of strangers, all too ready to condemn her for any real, perceived, or even imagined action that has led to her daughter's disappearance. No matter the truth of Aida's fate, Anne is judged to be at fault.
The Light on the Water is a quietly compelling story. Simply written, it nevertheless evokes a wealth of emotion. The tension builds nicely as the story unfolds at a measured pace, though I felt the subplot involving the refuge was an unnecessary distraction.
While this novel was overall very engaging and quite well written, I had a number of issues with some aspects of the book. Before I get onto my gripes, I would first mention what I enjoyed in The Light on the Water. I felt like the issue discussed, society's view of disabled children and their families, was very well handled. The question of Anne's innocence is always being asked as Lorenzo presents different facts of the case. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide if Anne is responsible for Aida's disappearance and assumed death. This was cleverly done and reinforces how the real world media reports on such cases. My issues with this novel begin with the repetitive nature of the writing. Even if the repetition is supposed to show the cyclic nature of Anne's grief and guilt, it can be quite grating at times. Outside of Robert, Hannah and Sandra, the conflicts created by the other characters were unnecessary. Tessa was rude without reason. Had her motivations been more clearly described, the inclusion of Tessa and Anne's mother would have held more gravity and purpose. The refugee and mermaids had no purpose other than making political statements. I did like their initial inclusion but their subplot seemed to go nowhere. I would have liked to see them more integrated, or given a stronger place in the novel. I understand that the story needs filler, but the filler should still be linked to the main story more strongly. The ending felt like a bit of a cop-out. After searching for more than a year, Aida's seal magically turns up, and a key witness appears from Mongolia? This is too convenient of a way to get Anne off her murder charge and doesn't do anything to change the facts of the book, only the world's perception of Anne. Despite these annoyances, I enjoyed the read. It is worth a look as a light read that deals with meaningful themes. I would like to thank Allen & Unwin for my advanced copy.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I won this book through a FirstReads giveaway, so thanks to Goodreads and Allen & Unwin.
I thought the premise of this book sounded interesting, and it was, but it wasn’t compelling. It was put-down-able - as evidenced by the fact that it took me about 9 days to read it. It’s a shame - I felt like I should really have been on the edge of my seat wondering whether the mother had killed her daughter, whether it was an accident or deliberate, or whether the daughter would actually be found 2 years after she disappeared, and then wondering whether the mother would go to prison or be acquitted - but unfortunately I wasn’t.
A friend pointed out that the plot for this one was very similar to Burnt Paper Sky which I haven't read, but would like to read now to compare.
It looks like this is Olga Lorenzo’s second publication - I will be interested to see her progression.
I enjoyed the book but was also slightly disappointed with it in some respects. I feel the characters weren't explored as deeply as they might have been and the expected emotions accompanying such a storyline were only given a superficial nod rather than the intensity they deserved. It was good but it could have been so much better.
I found this book to be a compelling, worthwhile read. The writing beautifully captures Anne's sense of loss and the limbo she finds herself in while waiting for developments in her case.
With the story told entirely from Anne's perspective, it was essential that she was a believable character, and I thought she was particularly well-drawn. As the book progresses, more layers of her past history are revealed, providing a clearer basis for her decisions and motivations. The other characters are also well-written and believable, though because we are limited to Anne's perception of them we never get a full understanding of their motivations. It is interesting to see the spectrum of reactions to Anne's situation, from people who know her and from complete strangers - we see people at their best and their worst.
The book is well-written, with evocative language that never becomes intrusive. I have seen some reviews that criticise the ending of the book, but I found it to be plausible and satisfying.
This book probes deeply into relationships and the undercurrents that touch all of us; spouses, friends, family and acquaintances. How we perceive and judge people and the implications and effects of our behaviour may be unseen but are rarely without consequence to someone. Lorenzo also tackles the role of the media in passing judgement but also on our dependence of it. I found this book provoking, thoughtful and compassionate. It walks a careful line that supports the integrity of the plot. I received this book, from the publisher, through Goodreads and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary Australian literature.
2 1/2 stars. I didn't mind this book, but just found it a bit slow and plodding in parts. Stories about family relationships are not really my interest, but I enjoyed the scenes with the mermaids and Nali the asylum seeker. Robert and Hannah were not particularly likeable, especially Hannah - the supposedly adult daughter - who came across as whiny and entitled.
This was seriously ho hum....boring. A story that dragged, choc full of characters I disliked save for the angelfish that died in the tank. My book group will be reading this later in the year but I will certainly not be going back for seconds. I’d give this one a wide berth.
'The Light On The Water' deals with the terrible experience of a mother who loses her child – and is then accused of having murdered her. Anne Baxter takes her autistic 6-year-old Aida on an ill-advised hike into the wild and beautiful Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria, and loses her forever when Aida runs ahead of her. A mother’s care for her child is boundless, society tells us, and there’s no defence for human lapses and misjudgments. There are worse mothers than Anne in the book – her own abusive mother and her self-absorbed sister Tessa – but that’s no comfort. She will forever blame herself for the fact that, tired from carrying a heavy pack, worn out by the constant need to deal with Aida’s wild energy and stubborn rituals, telling herself that Aida would wait for her at the bridge a little ahead of them because she was afraid to cross it alone, she didn’t run after Aida. Should she also blame her ex-husband, Robert, who should have had Aida that weekend but had cancelled because he wasn’t ready to introduce his autistic daughter to the new woman in his life? Yes, technically, but Anne was the one who lost Aida. Blame, personal responsibility and guilt rampage through the book. We’re reminded too of the strangely double-paced way our lives move. We make decisions and are carried along by them, while at a slower pace our minds are processing their implications. Thought lags well behind the momentum of action. This is what happens to Anne when she fails to think through the implications of taking Aida on a long and tiring walk, and it’s what’s happened to her marriage. She was the one who wanted to end it, and only too late she realizes what she’s lost, and begins to understand enough about herself to know why.
Olga Lorenzo has worked as a journalist, as has Anne Baxter, and the book takes on the journalistic culture in which truth and fiction blur in the pursuit of a good story. Anne is routinely abused by passers-by who’ve recognized her face from the media and by on-line trolls on the site she’s set up in the desperate hope that Aida might still be alive somewhere. Friends have melted away, and acquaintances avoid her. Where once she had choices about her life, now she’s defined by a public image she has no control over.
A harrowing story, but strangely enough the book doesn’t drag you down. Anne is an intelligent and courageous woman, and while Lorenzo creates a strongly realistic and detailed picture of the concrete details of everyday life – the suburban shops, the city buildings, the trips in the car, the parched gardens in a time of drought – always in the larger air of the book is the sea. Anne lives in a claustrophobic mental space, but her house overlooks the sea, and her goal with Aida was the beautiful Sealer’s Cove. It’s never laboured, but the larger view of human events and human time the sea gives us is always there. The light on the water reflects the changing light of the world, from dawn to dusk, in bright and stormy weather. It’s callous in its indifference to events, but consoling too in its constant return, no matter what.
One of the great pleasures of the book is the description of walking in Wilson’s Promontory which Lorenzo clearly knows and loves. There’s a striking authenticity about the book in general; it’s a theme that could easily descend into the maudlin or into platitudes about motherhood, but it never does. You can read Dorothy Johnston’s excellent review, which was what drew me to the book, here:
I received a copy of this book from Allen & Unwin (it's worth enter their online competitions for new releases because you might receive one as wonderful as this!)
I am still in awe of this novel, and, although it's too early to declare it my favourite book of 2016, it will certainly be one of them. As I said to friends, the author has managed to balance the most beautiful, descriptive writing (as needed - not laid on with a trowel), but at the same time, bringing to life so much of Melbourne and Wilson's Prom) - with a fascinating story line (which is somehow both devastating but not morose). Although it includes issues I haven't experienced, it also includes reactions, and experiences which so many of us will be familiar with, and captures them so succinctly (I was struck time and again thinking - 'ah - that's put into words something I've felt as a mum, as a wife, as a daughter - as someone in my own right). I was torn when reading between wanting to keep going because it is so engaging and simply written, and needing to stop because it brings up so many emotions. The book brings up so many issues, and stirs a lot of emotions - but not in a laboured way - and there is a lot to absorb and reflect on. The only minor criticism was a point, not quite at the end of the book, where the story started to sag slightly. A very minor point, and in some ways a relief (it gave a small reprieve from feeling as though every single phrase and paragraph needed to be absorbed and memorised) - other than that, I can't fault this. Truly wonderful.
I read this book in 2 days, a feat that I haven't achieved since before I had my children, but the story and the characters were incredibly compelling to me. The character of Anne Baxter, who endures the unimaginable twin griefs of a missing child and of being partially responsible for the disappearance of her through an innocent if out of character lapse in judgement, comes alive on the page in all of her glorious imperfection and humanity. The character of Aida, her autistic daughter, almost seven years old at the time that she goes missing is somewhat less vivid on the page, although we it is obvious that her mother in particular, knows her daughter's every nuance and unusual perspective of the world. There is a sense of an inchoate understanding of what it means to be autistic or to parent an autistic child by the public at large, and so the media stick with "Seal girl" or "disabled child", reducing Aida to a flat portrait of unfortunate victim hood. Anne's resigned acceptance of the publics hatred and condemnation of her where she should have been seen as the most pitiful of all women is backed up by glimpses into a childhood of physical and mental abuse by her mother and indifference by her father, and the themes the consequences of childhood suffering reverberating down the generations is touched upon more than once. More than anything, The Light on the Water is a rumination on the way that shattered things can fit back together in unexpected ways.
I had heard bad reviews on this book but as our book club was reading it i decided to give it a go and get stuck into so it was over and done with as fast as possible haha :)
But .. to my surprise, i actually enjoyed it. I found it easy to read and did give me a very good sence of what Anne was going through and how I would have felt being her. There were parts that i enjoyed more than others , such as her odd friendship with the mermaids and Nali, and when they arrived with the rabbit for her to look after, and a nice touch for me that robert took on Nali's case in the end. I also thought Annes relationship with Linda was touching and of course Sandra inexplicably being so kind to her throughout.
The ending seemed to come around all of a sudden and everything was wrapped up swiftly and neatly in the last couple of pages.. Anne is free, and fast forward to a year later .. Hannah has a serious relationship with Leo, who fits in very nicely with the family, Anne was finding romance with Jim and i presume everyone lived happily ever after.... Well every one except Anne's mum who is probably even FATTER now which will be quite traumatic for Anne, the sister who is probably still sulking over something or other and the spoiled nephew that i was picturing as Augustus Gloop the whole time.
A story about a family’s worst nightmare, when newly divorced mum, Anne Baxter takes her 6yr old autistic daughter, Aida on a bush walk in Melbourne and doesn’t return with her. Somehow, Aida gets lost on the walk. Following the initial search for Aida by police and trackers with no sign of the missing girl, Anne is subsequently charged with her daughters murder. Even worse for Anne, witnesses have come forward with information that strengthens the case against her. While Anne is on bail awaiting her trial she is caught flying interstate and thrown in prison for breaking her bail, where she is recognised and known as the ‘child killer’. This is a very thought provoking novel as Anne is the ex wife of a prominent barrister who has led the good life. It shows that there’s a very fine line between our lives and something as simple as a day out in the bush that could change our world as we know it. It’s a story of profound grief as Anne mourns the loss of her youngest daughter, of guilt as she blames herself for taking her eyes off Aida on the walk, of blatant ignorance and hate towards Anne by some of her peers who believe she is guilty of murder and of love and friendships Anne relies on for support. A great insight into a family living through a traumatic event that has somehow brought them closer.
Enter the mind of a woman whose young daughter, Aida, vanished while they were hiking at Wilson's Promontory in Victoria. We meet Anne a year of grief later when Aida's disappearance has now turned to society blaming the mother and accusing her of murder. Olga Lorenzo's skill takes us into Anne's mental and emotional torture as she tries to evade the media and to shop at odd hours to avoid the grim glares of former friends, neighbours and of total strangers. Readers remember how Australians were quick to assume Lindy Chamberlain's guilt over the death of her baby, Azaria. She was eventually acquitted. In Lorenzo's book, we feel the slow passage of time as seasons pass and there is still no discovery. The protagonist, Anne Baxter, was once a journalist at The Age newspaper and married to a renowned barrister. Now her world has fallen apart. Her university student older daughter, Hannah, tries to help her mother but is living in a share house in Carlton. One of the most successful minor characters in the novel is Anne's sister, Tessa, who is self obsessed and always hard done by, always blaming Anne for anything. She is wonderfully irritating, like Aunt Norris in Austen's Mansfield Park. Anne's experience of jail is redolent with the ugly brutality at the treatment of the 'child killer.' The ending of the novel really works. No spoilers here.
This book was such a good read, from start to finish. I've found myself dwelling on the subject matter quite incessantly throughout. Olga's style of writing is very engaging and quite honest in its portrayal of the inner workings of each character. Despite only being told from Anna's perspective, Olga skillfully allows the reader to see exactly who each of the other characters are, not only with regard to their relationship with Anna, but who they are as a separate person. Olga's portrayal of society within the framework of the accusation levelled against Anna is so entirely accurate. One only needs to reference real cases in Australia from the last 50 years to see evidence of this. Anna's ongoing feelings of guilt over 'losing her child' and 'being a bad mother' were (and are) perpetuated by the expectations of a society that is unwilling to accept that sometimes children get lost. They get hurt. They even die. And sometimes, it's nobody's fault. But there is a demand that it be somebody's, and who better to blame than that child's mother. There are moments in this book where I simply stopped reading and just sat there, contemplating the words, the ideas, and how I feel myself about what happened to this family. It's an incredible book and a great pick as a bookclub read, as there is no shortage of things to discuss with this one. #AWW2016
When I first saw the cover of this book I was intrigued; why was this girl staring at the fish like that? What story could be contained by that cover? Then I read the synopsis, and I liked the idea even more. Anne and her daughter Aida are out bushwalking one day, something Anne has always enjoyed. Two people enter the bush, but only one comes out. Anne is almost instantly under suspicion; Aida was difficult, she had autism, Anne was suffering from a recent marriage breakdown.
Slowly but surely we get to know Anne, a completely simple woman firmly believing in the beauty of the world around her. She knows she didn't hurt Aida, and she desperately hopes no one else has either, but she also knows Aida isn't coming back alive. It took seconds for Aida to disappear, but Anne will have to live with those few seconds for the rest of her life.
Completely un-put-down-able (is that a thing? it is now) and I was fascinated every step of the way. Five stars.
This stunning novel looks at family, love, grief and how we live with the consequences of our actions. Lorenzo writes beautifully and without fear; her protagonist Anne Baxter's flaws are on display for all to see, yet she is so richly conveyed, with her awful upbringing, her devotion to Aida and her rumination over her failed marriage and her regretful and unintended neglect of Hannah, we form a profound understanding of, and can't help but love her.
But what happens without this deep insight? Lorenzo's sharp intellect comes into play here, she forces us to examine how the media shapes our judgements, she dares us to question how we'd react if we were her neighbour/waiter/fellow school mum. As with all great writing, 'The light on the water' teaches us: to look with compassion, to question the herd, that families aren't easily defined and '...if you wait, it gets better.'
Pick up this novel, draw a bath or lie a towel on the sand and dive into its pages. You won't regret it.
I was lucky enough to get a copy of "The Light on the Water" through Goodreads Giveaways. Certainly a page turner, Olga Lorenzo's tale of Anne Baxter fighting for her innocence after losing her Autistic daughter on a bushwalk evoked strong emotions in me. I felt for Anne, being treated as a murderer by strangers who judged her, having to grieve the loss of her daughter without knowing for sure what happened while defending herself to those who knew nothing about her or her daughter. I definitely recommend reading this book, it's very well written and I couldn't put it down. It does drag on a little, but that just means you have to keep reading to find out what happens!
An interesting story of Anne Baxter who lost her autistic child during a bush walk. 2 years later and the police have decided to press charges of murder. The book focuses on Anne and what she has lost - her daughter, a husband, friends - and gained notoriety, suffering the indignity from the outraged public, is trolled and dehumanised by her experiences in prison. The story also touches on refugees and other outcasts from society's fringes. I certainly felt the frustrations of Anne, how easily it is to judge, and her sadness about her daughter's disappearance. It just faded out at the end.
Such a topical book, especially at this sad time in Melbourne. An autistic child goes missing while in the care of her mother. Has she been abducted, has she died in the bush or is the mother to blame? The media has made its view obvious, hounding the mother, and people in general have judged harshly. The author alludes to the mother's feeling of guilt with the secret being revealed near the end of the book. The characterisation was generally good, especially of the mother Anne but I didn't understand why the new wife Sandra was so friendly to the old wife Anne.
I really enjoyed this book and thought it was an easy read while at the same time being emotive, powerful, painful and at times hopeful. It is an interesting exploration of grief, blame, marriage, motherhood and the judgements made by society. It's downfall, I felt, was the ending. It seemed that in the hurry to tie up loose ends and ensure the story finished with a somewhat happy ending that the exploration of characters and their stories was left incomplete. Nevertheless, still a book I would recommend.
An absorbing book that I found increasingly drew me in as the tension and layers of complexity built around the central character, a mother whose autistic child disappeared while in her care. I loved the writing and also thought the short chapters added to the unfolding story. The emotions and pressure felt by the mother felt very real to me, and I was also reminded of Lindy Chamberlain as I read. Thanks to The Reading Room and Allen & Unwin for my copy.
This is a thought-provoking, soul-searching story that absolutely grabs you from the start. The blurb says "an unforgettable, aching, magical read" and that describes it perfectly. Seen through the accused one's eyes, through her dreadful grief and feelings of guilt, we also rage at the injustice, of how people are so willing to cast blame. We can also see how hard it is to be a parent and of how we judge each other in our failings. A great read.
2 and a half stars... I struggle with a book that has no likeable characters! Anne, her husband, her teen daughter, her sister, her mother!! What horrible people...only Sandra appeared somewhat likeable towards the end... I don’t understand why we needed the mermaids, the refugee and the rabbit?? Picked this book randomly off shelves at library...happy to return it!
A delightful read, close up and personal. Current in its subject matter - a master stroke being the passive aggressive sister character but a the sensitive relationship stuff went nowhere. What I missed was a sense of the agony the protagonist would have felt at losing a child .