Emma Viskic, Resurrection Bay (#BookReview)

Back in February, I said I planned to “read” more audiobooks this year, and slowly I’m achieving that goal with Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay being my third for the year. In fact, it makes a particularly special contribution, because it is the first book I wanted to hear when we bought our new car with Apple CarPlay functionality back in 2019. That might sound strange for someone who claims to not read crime, but here’s the thing …

While I don’t, as a rule, read crime, I do like to keep up with new Australian works. Emma Viskic’s 2015-published debut crime novel featuring a deaf investigator captured my interest at a time when we were looking for more fiction featuring differently abled protagonists. I wanted to read it, but I thought my best bet would be in audiobook form, because crime is the sort of writing that can work well in the car. The problem was that every time I checked my library audiobook catalogue there was no Emma Viskic, until a couple of months ago. Consequently, Resurrection Bay was the novel of choice for our last road trip. And it was a good choice, except …

There are certain things you need in a car audiobook, we’ve found. One is that straightforward narratives work best. After all, one of the listeners is a driver who should be focusing mostly on the road. Drivers do not need to be trying to follow multiple strands or unpicking abstract language, for example. Viskic’s novel worked well in this regard. However, another is that the sound needs to be good, and easy to hear above road and car noise. Here is where we struck problems. The reader for this audiobook, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, was a great reader – and I am fussy about audiobook readers – but he used a wide dynamic range to convey emotion and meaning through his voice. This made hearing in the car very difficult at times. It would not be a problem, I expect, if you were listening to it through ear-pods while walking.

And now, I really should get to the book – but one more proviso. Because I experienced it in audio form, my comments will be general and briefer than usual.

Resurrection Bay is the first in Viskic’s Caleb Zelic series. He is a private investigator who has been profoundly deaf since early childhood – from meningitis (which was also behind author Jessica White’s deafness). Unlike Jessica, though, Caleb did learn to sign. GoodReads describes the plot as follows:

When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

“silence safer than words”

Fictional detectives, I have come to learn, are not usually easy people. They tend to be loners, or to have some personal problem/s which add to the challenge and interest of the narratives featuring them. Caleb, of course, has his deafness. He’s an outsider, not because deafness necessarily makes him so, but because he, as his Koori ex-wife Cat tells him, lets it make him so. He refuses to admit his hearing impairment to others when communication difficulties occur, and this desire to “appear normal” not only impacts his ability to do his job, but it impacts his relationship with her. He also, frustratingly, refuses to “hear” what she is saying, jumping to the wrong conclusion because he is not listening. His deafness, in other words, is more than physical. It is also mental and emotional. Communication is, then, an underlying theme or motif in the work.

However, I’ve gone off on a tangent, because of course the main story is the crime investigation, which Caleb undertakes with his business partner, the aforementioned Frankie. She has her own difficult past which includes having been an alcoholic. This Caleb knows. Their investigations take them from Melbourne to Caleb’s childhood home, the fictional Resurrection Bay, and in the process Caleb discovers things he didn’t know about his friend, the murder victim; jumps to conclusions about his brother Anton; and learns more about Frankie.

Resurrection Bay is a page-turner, as you would expect. It’s well-written, with good crime-characterisation, and vivid evocation of place. It’s emotionally moving because Viskic makes you invest in her characters, but it also has some very violent and bloody moments. I guessed what the twist might be, but I was never completely sure until the end – and how it all actually fell out contained surprises.

Now, though, I want to address the elephant in the room – the deaf protagonist, the Koori wife, and the whole whose-story-is-it-to-tell issue? Here’s the gen, from The Age. Viskic

says being half-Slav gave her an outsider status that honed her power of observation.
Her husband was raised in a Koori family and they have two grown daughters. One of her primary school classmates was deaf and the disability – and particularly the refusal to accept it as a disability by the deaf community – has always intrigued her. She learned Auslan for the novels.

Later in the article, she is quoted as saying that

writing from outside your own experience is dangerous … not just because people can shoot you down, but because you can do the wrong thing by people. But I wanted my nieces and nephews to have characters like them in a book. And also, it would have felt cowardly not to have done it.

I am not a hard-and-faster on this whose-story issue. I do think that where longterm disempowerment is involved, own-stories are the better and fairer way to go, but it’s grey. If writers have reasons for writing a particular story that is not their own, then they wear the consequences, as Viskic is clearly aware. Ultimately, it’s not for me to say, but I felt Resurrection Bay was written with sensitivity and respect. The rest is up to those who own these stories.

In 2016, Resurrection Bay won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction; and the Davitt Award for Best Adult Novel. An impressive debut.

Kimbofo enjoyed this novel too, and Bill has posted on Viskic’s fourth Caleb Zelic novel, Those who perish.

Emma Viskic
Resurrection Bay
(Read by Lewis Fitz Gerald)
Wavesound from WF Howes, 2017 (Orig. pub. 2015)
Duration: 7hrs 9mins
ISBN: 9781510064140

30 thoughts on “Emma Viskic, Resurrection Bay (#BookReview)

  1. I agree, I’m not hard-and-fast about this issue of appropriation either. TBH, I think only those who are very clear about their own straightforward identity can afford to have a hard-and-fast attitude.

    • Thanks Lisa … that’s an interesting perspective. I guess I think it’s more about power. Where the “voice” has been powerless for a long time, I think others need to be more careful. But it can be taken to extreme can’t it. I mean, would we say Thomas Hardy should not have written Tess? Or, Thackeray, Vanity Fair?

        • I agree, to a degree. We shouldn’t ignore today’s standards, and some works may no longer be relevant to today because they are so “wrong” AND they have nothing else to offer, but overall they are part of how cultures and civilisations have developed aren’t they.

        • To give an example, I saw discussion about ‘cancelling’ The Merchant of Venice because of its portrayal of Shylock.
          That’s daft. The teachers who introduce Shakespeare to new generations of readers deal with any problematic elements, which not only deals with that text, but also teaches them a way of interrogating the ‘isms’ in any text (sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homo and trans-phobias etc) without losing the significance of the themes for which Shakespeare is famous. Once we start cancelling books because we judge them rather than note elements that we wouldn’t accept today, out go the Greek and Roman myths, folk and fairy tales full of misogyny, medieval poetry and song and most of the great works of literature that began the development of the novel in the C19th.
          People who ‘cancel’ and therefore never read Jane Eyre because of the madwoman in the attic, miss the important social elements of that novel: the treatment of women and girls and the lack of opportunity for them; the disgraceful state of unregulated boarding schools; the hypocrisy of the church, the class system and so on.

    • Woo-hoo, M-R, I’ve reviewed a book you want to hear. Given you “read” more crime, I’d love to hear what you think. If you like it, I think her four Caleb Zelic books have all been released as audio-books now.

  2. Bravo for attempting audio books in the car. The car/road noise has always been too much of an issue for me to bother with this again (after trying a book or two back in my Mudgee/Sydney roadtripping days). I tried known stories, classics, so that if I missed a bit, it wouldn’t matter too much as I knew the story so well. But in the end, I simply couldn’t concentrate enough on the book and the road.

    • Thanks Brona. I think roads and cars have improved since you were doing that trip. Also, we stop when we leave major highways. Mostly, we like quiet these days when we drive. We listened to this 7 hour novel over a drive that took around 14 hours [le to Melbourne and back! Drivers do a lot of things – talk on hands free phones (which bothers me as you are listening and talking when must surely take more concentration), listen to podcasts, etc – that require concentration. We all do need to be mindful about when our attention is being distracted, don’t we?

  3. I love that you covered all the important aspects of listening to an audio. I absolutely HATE audiobooks in which the narrator tries to be dramatic by whispering and yelling. If it’s whispered, I can’t hear it, and if it’s yelled, my hearing aids don’t know what to do with the sound and start crackling, which is rather jarring. I just want someone to read the damn book to me.

    Also, thanks for sharing your research on why this author wrote about a deaf (maybe Deaf?) person. In the U.S. if this character is culturally Deaf (uses sign language, embraces the history and identity of Deaf people, etc.) it’s Deaf with a big D. However, if this character only has deafness as a medical condition and does not relate to the Deaf community, it’s deaf with a little d. If he uses Auslan, I would think he leans toward Deaf.

    There’s also a whole conversation around the term “hearing impaired.” A Deaf person in the U.S. would likely be offended by that. They do not feel they are impaired, nor are they missing something. And yet a deaf person would like say, “Yes, I have a hearing impairment.”

    • Oh thanks for this deaf/Deaf/hearing impaired discussion Melanie. As I think we’ve discussed before, back in the late 70s – early 80s, I was told by the Deaf community in no uncertain words, that I was to use “hearing impaired”. Nomenclature, eh? It’s so hard to keep up but I like to respect people and do what they want if I can.

      And I was interested to read your comments on audio books with dramatic readers. I guess that’s also what anyone listening through ear-buds might experience too? I rarely use ear-buds so am not experienced in their challenges. BTW Mr Gums and I enjoy classical music but we rarely listen to it in the car because it tends to have more dynamic range than most other music forms. Anyhow, I agree, I just want the book read, expressively but not dramatically.

      • Yes! Classical music will get all pianissimo and then next thing you know it’s blaring at you. With headphones I’m fine for audiobooks, but not in the car if the reader changes volume.

        It is true how words change. I read a book in the past called Drinking Coffee Will Make You Black in which the children keep telling their parents to quit saying “Negro” and use “Black” instead. Malcolm X also had a hard time learning to update his wording as well. And now I’m reading Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe. It’s set in the 60s, and once again, the kids are telling their parents to stop saying “Negro.” Black Power is coming up in the time line, and the kids get with it before their folks do.

        • Interesting Melanie. It seems that kids always (or, at least, mostly) do? Even though it’s adults who read more news? The influence of schools and teachers, perhaps?

        • I’m starting to wonder if younger people have less to lose. They typically don’t have a full-time job, children, and a house to pay for. Thus, what I would consider very risky may not be so risky to them. But as for keeping up on terms, that may just be campus culture, whether it’s a high school or college. Students have many opportunities to congregate and study and exchange ideas.

  4. I can’t listen to audio books, I just can’t bear being read to. Sad. That said, I recently read ‘Resurrection Bay’, and am looking forward to the other books in the series. I read the third book sometime ago, and am on the look out for books two and four.
    I will be doing a lot of driving in Tasmania in October and November, and a USB full of music (from Beethoven to Paul Kelly) will accompany me 😉

    • I’m trying to teach myself Jennifer, for when (if) my eyes start to fail!

      We used always to listed to music, making mix-CDs for these pre-streaming days. But, as I wrote to Melanie above, although we are regular attendees of we classical music concerts, we rarely listen to classical music in the car because of the same dynamic range issue. You can lose the quiet bits of Beethoven for example. So it tends to be more popular forms of, often vocal, music in the car. These days we often drive in quiet, enjoying the rare opportunity for peace! For lots of driving though I would be listening to stuff!

      Resurrection Bay is a good crime read I think, though more gory than we’d like. Would make a good series or movie.

      • When I had uveitis 15 years ago I did listen to some audio books. I had to spend a lot of time resting, so could actively listen. As soon as the uveitis went into remission, I had catracts as a result of the treatment and needed surgery. One day, I may have to embrace audio books. But not yet. Good on you for preparing!

        • Oh poor you … preparing more in mind than practice. Three audiobooks in 8 months is not exactly going gung-ho is it!

          Have a lovely time in Tassie. Hope the weather treats you well. Do you have family all over?

  5. Well, I love being read to. Right now I’m listening to ZNH, Their Eyes … whose use of dialect is proving difficult. I get no opportunities to zone out, but still it is worth the effort. And I will routinely re-listen to any competently written and read work (yes, no whispering).

    On appropriation, I think the issue is with protagonists, not secondary characters. Viskic is describing Indigenous people, not speaking for them.

    Also, the lady with the Port Fairy bookshop (on Twitter) has agreed to ask Viskic if R. Bay is based on Port Fairy.

    • Thanks Bill, but my question relates to the fact that it’s not just an Indigenous character here, but a male deaf person who is the protagonist.

      I did wonder which coastal town it might have been based on. Maybe a few!? It’s 3 hours drive from Melbourne I think we are told.

      • Good point. I did find his level of comprehension a bit unrealistic, but then how would I know.

        There’s no town exactly like R Bay – with a habitable island off the coast – but given that she (and Lisa, I think) will be at the Port Fairy festival, I thought the question worth asking.

        • I’m clearly more forgiving. But, I think he lost his hearing around the same age and for the same reason as Jessica White I think, and her comprehension is excellent.

          And yes, good point re the Port Fairy Writers Festival.

  6. I get frustrated by many of the comments around appropriation – if certain people had their way, no author would ever be able to write about a place or subject they didn’t have personal experience of. So men (those identifying as men as we have to say now) could only ever write about male characters and so on. How nonsensical is that – have people never heard of creative imagination???

    Stepping off my soap box….

    I do love audio books. They keep me going when I’m in the gym. I used to listen to them in the car on commutes too but post retirement that doesn’t happen often. The choice of narrator is so critical but I also found certain kinds of books just don’t work well – those which are very heavily character driven and a have a high level of interiority because it takes too much concentration to absorb them. I would find myself drifting off too much.

    Crime works well though …

    • Yes, Karen, exactly what I say. By this “rule” I could only write about a middle-class white who has travelled a bit. My rule of thumb about appropriation involves longterm suppression of story. If your “group’s” story has been squashed, ignored, then I think it’s good to make way for those who own the story to tell it, until things have righted at least, but it’s a nuanced thing.

      In the end authors live or die by the voices they create so they need to convince us that they’ve got it.

      And yes audiobook. I need good characters but they need to be plot or story driven for the car don’t they.

      • Yes I see your point about who gets the tell the story of the silenced voices – though if those voices continue to be silenced, then better someone tells it rather than no-one

        • It’s all a balancing act isn’t it, Karen. That’s why I don’t like to criticise those who tried when other voices were silenced. Their hearts were in the right place and I feel that’s important.

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