Mumurations is a book that echoes with the push and pull of relationships

  • Murmurations, by Carol Lefevre. Spinifex Press. $24.95.

This lucid, exceptional collection of eight linked stories is based on the lives of a dozen couples in the same social set.

As the work progresses, it becomes clear that the push and pull felt in any one of the relationships is echoed in all.

The tension between wanting to set one's own course, and to be part of the flock, or social milieu, is felt throughout.

Murmurations is about couples falling apart, about women like Jeannie Tarrant realising with a jolt that her marriage is not founded on love, and that a younger self married with the most naive expectations.

Or stylish, stoic Claire Delaney, living in the flat bought for her by her ex-husband whom she still secretly regards are her spouse.

But Claire finds, in the bifurcated life of an ex-wife, a moment of unexpected grace as she agrees to do a kind turn for one of the children of her husband's second marriage.

Another of these women is Erris Cleary. She is first introduced only as "the dead woman", the spouse of Dr Cleary, who died suddenly.

It is through Emily, Dr Cleary's young secretary, that we soon realise Erris may have been murdered.

When Emily is transcribing the doctor's dictaphone tapes, his voice is sometimes interrupted by a disturbing whisper.

It is Mrs Cleary: 'If you do nothing, and he kills me, it will be your fault.'

Erris becomes one of the abiding spirits of Murmurations, and her absence is as profound as her presence.

These works also have a curious, otherworldly feel, potent with lack, as the setting of the stories is never spelled out.

We could be in Australia, Canada or the US.

In the book's afterword, Lefevre says that she initially wrote the stories in response to the works of Edward Hopper.

The collection is imbued with the austerity of Hopper's urban landscapes.

Once tragedy strikes, there are few comforts for the bereaved, penniless or recently single spouses within these cold landscapes.

In the penultimate story, Erris Cleary finally emerges as a fully fleshed-out character.

Erris helps Arthur, a young labourer trapped by penury, to escape.

"Fly far, be free," she urges him.

This is devastatingly good writing.

"Paper Boats", the last in the collection, follows the deep contours of the life of Amanda, a writer.

Amanda and her neighbour go to the police with a clue about the fate of Erris Cleary.

Finally, the voice of Erris Cleary may be heard after all.

  • Christine Kearney is a Canberra-based writer.
This story Lucid, emotional and devastatingly good writing first appeared on The Canberra Times.