Amelia is no stranger to sex and death. Her job in her family’s funeral parlour, doing make-up on the dead, might be unusual, but she’s good at it. Life and warmth come from the men she meets online – combining with someone else’s body at night in order to become something else, at least for a while.
But when a sudden loss severs her ties with someone she loves, Amelia sets off on a seventy-two-hour mission to outrun her grief – skipping out on the funeral, running away to stay with her father in Tasmania, and experimenting on the the local BDSM scene. There she learns more about sex, death, grief and the different ways pain works its way through the body. It’ll take two fathers, a bruising encounter with a stranger and recognition of her own body’s limits, to bring Amelia back to herself.
Thank you firstly to Siobhan Slattery for my proof copy of this book. Best described I think as a ‘black comedy’. We meet Amelia our protagonist on page one, in bed with a man she has met online, swiftly dismissed after their coupling and deleted as she seeks her next encounter. Using sex to escape is a theme in this book and for Amelia this becomes much more evident when she experiences a bereavement and seeks sex as a way of escaping from her grief.
Living in a bungalow as an annex to the family home Amelia lives alongside her mum and stepfather, plus her brother and his 2 partners – forming a throuple (a term I was previously unfamiliar with – but meaning a romantic relationship between three people). So the family are liberal in their views of sex and Amelia’s own sexual activities are accepted. Another key character is Judy, receptionist at the funeral business and it is this eclectic group that make up the cast for this story. While reading I was struck by the eccentricity of the relationships which while collectively felt chaotic, were underwritten by a warmth that shone through.
Later following a significant loss the story felt much more visceral as Amelia spiralled into the BDSM scene while staying with her father, having fled the loss and avoided the funeral. Amelia feels very lost and fragile during this part of the story, there is a sense she is spinning out of control and while she is largely accepting of everything that she engages in sexually, she feels very uncertain and other than distraction in the form of escape, it is not obvious what else she is gaining from these encounters. That said this all feels very cathartic and Amelia is clearly on a journey of self discovery and within this there is a sense of healing and recovery, although more from her familial relationships than what she is actually doing.
Amelia works in the family’s funeral business, so her response to her own loss and her unwillingness to engage with the funeral is somewhat ironic. While the novel does use a lot of dark humour there are some very tender and moving moments. The relationships within the family and the funeral business are special and I enjoyed the closeness and acceptance evident here. Later when Amelia is with her father and engaging with the BDSM scene, again she is treated with acceptance and recognition as she tries to flee from herself.
A short book at 234 pages, this was a quick read, original and a little unusual but an interesting and engaging story which I enjoyed. Published earlier this month and available to buy now.
About the Author
Ella Baxter is a writer and artist living in Melbourne. She has had poetry published in Spineless Wonders, Gargouille Literary Journal, and Bowen St Press. In her spare time, she runs a small business making bespoke death shrouds. She is currently writing her second novel.