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Delicious descriptions from Down under: Courtney Collins and landscape

April 20, 2013

There was so much to write about Courtney Collins’ novel The burial in my review this week that I couldn’t share one of my favourite aspects – her gorgeous descriptions of the landscape. When I say gorgeous, I should clarify that the landscape itself isn’t always gorgeous, but her descriptions, her ability to evoke the landscape visually, spiritually and emotionally certainly is.

The imagery draws from the mountains and the earth, and is imbued with multiple meanings. The mountains represent magic and mystery, but also danger, while the earth conveys time and stories. The descriptions feel Australian – and yet there’s little reference to specific, identifiable features, such as gum trees.

Here are two descriptions of the earth:

THE EARTH, AS I can feel it, is pressed together at points and ruptured in parts. And so events seem to fold into each other, like burial and birth. It’s not like the smooth and undulating beauty of a ribbon streaming out. No. The earth buckles with the stories it holds of all those who have cried and all those who have croaked.


the earth disturbed and compacting as they rode, all of untold time beneath them.

I love the way these descriptions convey something eternal, permanent, not always benign but somehow reassuring nonetheless. By contrast, here are descriptions involving mountains and our three main characters – Jessie, Jack Brown and then Barlow:

She felt odd—as if some great fissure had finally opened up, and all of the convolutions of herself were meeting at the surface, like so many coincidences at once. And somewhere in it all was her own distinct nature.

Sitting by the ravine she felt her past was not behind her or beneath her, it was everywhere at once, living through her, and the boy and Joe and Bill were just like those she had known before and here on the mountain was something like a second chance …


The mountains unfolded and soon he felt with all of his wanting that she would split the summit, come tearing out through the trees and ride determinedly towards him. But she did not.


For Barlow, the mountains had unfolded without meaning. The colours and shapes continued to be strange to him and as they had moved higher up the slope he felt the clouds weighing in like the ceiling of a room that was sinking down upon him …

Quite different aren’t they? The mountains seem to be more about self – about defining self – sometimes positive, sometimes not, but often associated with a sense of change.

It’s strong language with slightly unusual rhythms. I found it effective and rather mesmerising.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2013 12:28 pm

    I like the second last one best, I think. Because I think I know that yearning for the figure that doesn’t come.

    • April 20, 2013 5:49 pm

      Oh yes Hannah … I know what you mean … I love the rhythm of that one with that final short sentence “But she did not”.

  2. April 21, 2013 1:59 am

    great to compare multiple views on the same subject ,all the best stu

  3. April 23, 2013 3:50 am

    Beautiful descriptions. The comparisons remind me of the Vasily Grossman book I read recently. He visits Lake Sevan in Armenia. It is apparently a famous lake much photographed and painted so he had seen it before he had seen it. When he actually stood there he could see that is was a beautiful scene but was saddened because he felt there was something missing inside him that was able to meet the beauty he knew was there.

    • April 23, 2013 8:16 am

      That’s an integrating connection Stefanie … I love the way our minds take us from one thing to another like that …

  4. April 23, 2013 5:17 pm

    How beautiful and very effective – lending an almost geographical contour to sentiment. Sounds like a very rich book, now over to your review.

    • April 23, 2013 5:25 pm

      “An almost geographical contour to sentiment”. I do like the way you say things Catherine … that’s pretty right … there’s so much in this book.

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