Book review: The Salted Air, Thom Conroy

By Lyn Loates

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NZ writer Thom Conroy.
NZ writer Thom Conroy.

A person could so easily be attracted to this book by its cover. But no, we mustn't judge. Yet it turns out that designer Sam Bunny's haunting monochromatic cover image - plus two frontispiece images of a powerful, surging, confused sea - conveys the tone perfectly.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time gazing at the sea; a small concern prevented me from diving right on into the story. What if a male writer, using first person female narrative, couldn't convincingly capture and sustain a questing female mind? Well, turns out - again - Thom Conroy can, and with exquisite confidence.

Conroy picks up his character, Djuna, 28, in the wake of her boyfriend's suicide. She's trying to make a truth of her thoughts and feelings and has written them intimately in a "not-quite-a-diary" as she describes it.

Journals and diaries have been a lifelong habit for Djuna. Her hippie parents wrote journals and diaries too. None were private. They were stored in the kitchen for the reading and sharing among the tight threesome. But with no warning her parents separate, the threesome is broken. During a period of a few months, the writings in Djunas's not-quite-a-diary search out "what's lost but also what's waiting to be found."

There's a comfortably contained cast of characters - amusing, eccentric, each doing life the best way they can, all colourfully etched and taking a necessary role. More than that, the North Island landscapes of Wellington, Palmerston North and the remote East Coast, through which Djuna travels, are powerful characters in their own right.

But what I want to applaud most is Conroy's employment of the prose poem. This book presents a series of small, beautiful vignettes - lyrical, elegant, informed - each of which could practically stand alone. Yet all are pliantly linked to make this a novel - a love story of a unique kind.

by Thom Conroy
(Vintage, $38)

- Weekend magazine

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