A review of A Promise of Peaches by Valerie Volk
Published in 2011 by Ginninderra Press.
A Promise of Peaches is Valerie Volk’s second book of poetry. I wrote a review of her first book, In Due Season a few days ago. Actually, to call this new work a book of poetry is to do this volume a disservice. It is a verse novel.
The inspiration for this novel came from Valerie’s own experience as a child, but I hasten to add that it is in no way autobiographical. It first existed as a short story. I remember when Valerie read this story which was an assignment when we were part way through our Master of Arts degree. The suggestion was to expand it into a novel. A little later I recall that our lecturer suggesting that she rewrite it as a verse novel. I think at the time Valerie claimed not to have ever read anything in this specialised genre before, but typically, Valerie threw herself into research mode and the idea grew into the book.
A Promise of Peaches traces the life of Claire, from her early memories as a young girl growing up in post-war Melbourne through to her frustrations in an aged-care facility. Her parents take in as boarders a Czech refugee couple, Viktor and Irena. The story, told in a variety of poetic forms, reveals the feelings and thoughts of each character. Each poem is short, often no more than a page or two at most, and every one sketches a poignant vignette of the inner feelings of the character. Valerie has used different, distinctive voices for each person, a difficult task for any writer and one she succeeds in achieving.
The initial excitement of the struggling post-war Australian suburban family in welcoming a couple from a totally different culture and social background is soon swamped by misunderstandings, rising tension and frustrated passions. Claire’s own innocent sexual stirrings, aided by Viktor, add to the tension and conflict. The author has skilfully woven all of these emotions into the beautiful fabric of her narrative. Her poems are often sparse, tight and understated, sharpened down to bare essentials. I particularly like the three special blues poems inserted into the text late in the writing process.
Somewhere in the night a child is crying.
Somewhere in the blackness of the night a child is crying bitter tears.
Scorching searing tears that never seem to end.
From: Claire, Blues Interlude 3 p.163
In the very next poem we read how Claire sees Viktor only once many years later. She recognises him instantly, but he doesn’t know her, nor the profound effect his actions have had on her throughout her life.
I highly recommend this verse novel, not because Valerie is a valued colleague and friend, but because it is a captivating read. Many readers have told her that they couldn’t put it down, that they read all the way through in one sitting. Even though I’d read the manuscript in several of its draft forms, I too found myself reading right through (though I admit to stopping for lunch at one stage, only because it was my turn to cook).
By the way – it’s not every day one gets to read one’s name in the acknowledgements page of a novel. Thanks for sharing the journey with me Valerie; it was fascinating.
You can buy this, and her other books online on her website: Valerie Volk