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lip lit: gap

Rebecca Jessen’s debut verse novel is excellent. I’ve read it twice cover-to-cover, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The first time, I read it too quickly to take notes or consider it critically – the narrative positively races along and pulls the reader with it. I had to read it again to be able to write this review.

pull at the hem
of my shirt
a loose thread
and the realisation
I’ve let everything

The influence of legendary Aussie verse novelist Dorothy Porter is immediately obvious. Gap has a lot in common with Porter’s 90s cult classic The Monkey’s Mask; both are crime fiction novels with lesbian protagonists written in plainspoken poetry that is refreshingly gritty and accessible. But that’s where the comparison ends.

wake up

you don’t

this life

Instead of our protagonist being the detective in a murder case, we know from the first page of Gap that our protagonist Ana is the murderer.

didn’t mean to see the bastard

just a warning
one he was never gonna

The puzzle at the heart of this crime story does not concern working out the identity of a murderer, but coming to understand, as we learn more of Ana’s story, the kind of desperation that pushes ordinary people into making bad decisions.

Indie smiles
thinks I’m some fucking hero
doesn’t know what I’ve done

just to get to this place
or what I’m gonna do
to keep us here.

The reader spends the novel in a far more fascinating psychological space than if this book were a standard whodunit—the reader experiences the guilt, isolation and paranoia felt by the murderer.

don’t want you to see me

lying in the dark

Suspense gets increasingly tense as the police suspect Ana is guilty of a murder the reader knows she has committed. But the reader relates to Ana. She might be a murderer but she isn’t a monster, and she’s trying so hard to turn her life around.

trace the scratches
skin already raised and red

have to stop stumbling

This novel reminds readers that it’s tough for some people to stay on the right side of the law, and their personal history doesn’t always give them a fair chance.

Guess us girls
got Mum’s luck

that is

cops on the doorstep
our Saturday Disney

This story makes a strong political statement. It shows how a murderer might actually be a victim, and how the inequality of society fails people—how young people can so easily fall through the gaps and might never find their way back.

drifted between shelters
friends’ couches
drifted so far away
from who I could’ve been

Gap highlights class disparities in Australian society and the gap between the lifestyles of the haves and have-nots.

the lawns
and the ladies
have matching

Book designer Sandy Cull, in the cover art, shows a modest house with a glow behind closed curtains, suggestive of the slow rage smouldering below the surface of suburbia—and the fiery red and orange tones on the cover are evocative of a kind of hell.

dropkick boyfriend

made a groove in the couch
with his ignorance

decided to let Mum
sink in too

Everything about the setting and characters feels disturbingly familiar and close to home. The vernacular in particular is so Australian, so authentic.

killed that bloke
didn’t ya?

When Ana’s old high school sweetheart turns out to be one of the police officers investigating the case, the story moves into softer, sensual territory.

not as hard as she’d like to think
I know her soft
I know her broken

In a world of tough love, tenderness might prove Ana’s only salvation.

Rebecca Jessen was the winner of Best Emerging Author at the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards for her verse novel Gap. It is available for purchase from University of Queensland Press.

Bronwyn Lovell lives in Melbourne. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including Best Australian Poems, Award Winning Australian Writing, the Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Love Poems, Antipodes, Cordite and the Global Poetry Anthology. Bronwyn has won the Adrien Abbott Poetry Prize and been shortlisted for the Newcastle, Bridport, and Montreal prizes.

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