by Barbara Yates Rothwell
HC: 215 pp
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Short story virtuoso Barbara Yates Rothwell paints with a delicate brush. Here are no vulgar splashes of colour. Instead, we’re taken into a world revealed in idiosyncratically gentle pastels. And she brings more than a hint of compassion – and a wry eye – to the characters she draws with such understated artistry.
In Crown of Thorns, we meet an order of elderly monks in a remote and crumbling abbey. Their lives revolve around an exquisite, pearl-encrusted gold crown which has pride of place in the thoughts and lives of those leading ascetic lives. Why is this ancient crown so unusual in relation to those other relics – skulls, fragments of the Cross, say – which are treasured and revered in monasteries, convents and other places of worship?
A father trying to make the most of an access visit to a much loved young son, takes the little boy to the fair and all the fun that’s associated with such excursions. The child has his heart set on a minicar that’s the prize at a shooting gallery. Why does that innocent endeavour have so eerie, frankly inexplicable – and deadly – an effect on others miles away?
Dawning is a gem about awakening awareness of the opposite sex when a still-gawky teenage experiences her first heartbreak. This is a beautifully considered piece.
On a visit to Sydney, a woman visits one of the city’s historic and prestigious homes. In one of the bedrooms, there’s a mirror – but what it reveals has nothing (or possibly a great deal) to do with the here and now. And what of her gentleman friend who she hopes will ask her to marry. There’s more than a little heartbreak here
An attentive householder hears – senses – something that ought not to be there in that very old dwelling. It’s the sounds of a child weeping. But there’s no-one in the room.
How does she handle this curious matter – and how does this kindly woman bring closure to a child in deep trouble?
In Grenadine, a woman sitting on a tranquil Australian beach in the here and now suddenly finds herself part of an horrific event: the death of a ship and many on it. It can’t possibly be happening now; these are people of a bygone age – surely?. Yet, as if in a waking dream, she’s leading bedraggled survivors up the steep cliff to safety.
Here is a writer whose skilled literary touch brings odd events to life, if the latter is the appropriate word for events concerning those long dead (or perhaps not entirely so?).