‘Hiam’, a novel by South Australian writer Eva Sallis, is an unusual novel.
My immediate reaction is that it is more lyrical than prosaic. The poetic devices used by Sallis dominate the narrative. Many passage could be quoted to back up this opinion. The story telling elements near the end of the novel are pure poetry, particularly the gazelle story.
I was in awe as I read the many beautiful passages in the writing. Sentences like this one are most memorable: The Aunties are all creeping on tiptoe around their hearts. Other images are simply haunting. The road was the protagonist’s straitjacket, the car her prison, or her skull; herself the thread of life.
Initially I felt great anticipation as I read of the place names in the early pages. They were all recognisable places here in South Australia giving me an instant identification with the story. Not too far on, however, the novelist took me as the reader into a strange and very unfamiliar world. The psychotic world of a very confused and hurting main character is very disturbing. I couldn’t put my finger on the cause of this disturbance in my reaction until late in the novel when the main character Hiam plainly states that her husband had killed himself. All the evidence was there from the beginning, of course – I had merely not fully understood.
Hiam’s sense of isolation in Australia is clearly drawn by the author throughout the novel. This was her first encounter with rural and inland Australia. Everything seemed strange to her and she encounters many things which are alien to her from her cultural understandings. There are some constant elements in Hiam’s journey of discovery. Thoughts, memories and dreams of her husband, her daughter and her religion help her through her desolation.
- Hiam by Eva Sallis, published by Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998. It was the winner of the Australian/Vogel Literary Award.