Feature image from SMH
THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Mireille Juchau
I knew nothing about The World Without Us when I first picked it up. To be honest, judging from the cover, I thought it was going to be a science fiction novel. I had just finished reading James Bradley’s novel CLADE and thought The World Without Us looked very similar.
I had not read a review on the novel or ever heard of the author, Mireille Juchau. It was a funny choice, but I was stuck in Sydney for a week without a book and just took a chance. I’m so glad I did.
The story is centered around the Muller Family, living in a small, rural community somewhere north of Sydney. Here, Stephan is a struggling apiarist tended to his bees during unexplainable colony collapse.
This family is fragile and dislocated, slowing moving through their own grief after the loss of the youngest child Pip. Tess has been living in silence for six months and Meg her sister tries to fill the hole the silence creates in the family. Stefan, struggles with a dependency on alcohol, while their mother goes wondering in the day returning after dark.
After human bones are found on the edge of the Muller farm, the story quickly encompasses the whole town and the hidden past of those who once lived together in a now disbanded commune called ‘The Hive.’
THE WORLD WITHOUT US is very much a character-driven story, or should I say a literary-driven story. It’s gripping but also gentle.
It does not exhaust you or allow you to pull away, yet it is a subtle read, almost dream like in its lack of “speech” punctuation.
THE WORLD WITHOUT US is set in a small rural town that feels a lot like the mountains around Byron Bay. I would be very surprised if Byron didn’t direct inspire the scenery. The town a strange place, fractured between the alternative lifestyle of many and those that have recently moved in after the discovery of gas-seams under farmland. The characters of the community slowly come to life and as does the devastation that is slowly seeping its way into the environment.
In The World Without Us – the ‘Us’ in the title are those characters from the novel who have passed. By using the term us the reader is drawn into their confidence, while those that have passed away are not present in the novel, they are with the reader, looking down on the world. It was a very beautiful perspective and gave the whole novel an existential quality. I could not read it without imagining the world without me.
I feel silly writing this review. I am in no way qualified to review books of this caliber. It should just say I loved it and be quiet. THE WORLD WITHOUT US book has trumped me.
I have missed so much of the story in this review, and so many characters and moments that make it such a lovely read. It feels way out of my league. It’s a book I will be reading again in ten years.
For me, this novel read like an Ondatjaae novel. It was focused on characters and their relationship to each other, while the environment and the world are crucial to the story. There is an element of communication and themes of connectedness; how we relate to each other.
Lanugauge, poetry and words are theme throughout the novel that ties the stories together – Tess in her silence, Stefan as he reverts to his native German and Evangeline who is unable to express the truth. The young girls searching for the words to express emotions that are moving faster than they brains can learn a language to discuss it.
THE WORLD WITHOUT US was published in 2015 by Bloomsbury Publishing in Australia. It is Juchau’s third novel (and yes I will now go and buy the other two). It is not a long book but it took a long time to read; not from disinterest but rather a desire to read it slowly and savor the words.
This novel stretched and tested my vocabulary. There were parts I had to read over again, moments when the dialogue and action mixed strangely together. I felt like something was happening to me as I read it. You can’t read the novel too fast or you’ll miss it.
There are only two strange things I want to mention about this novel. Firstly, the title is the same as another quite famous Non Fiction book by ALAN WISEMAN. I’m sure THE WORLD WITHOUT US is meant to reference Alan Wiseman’s text, however it did make the book hard to find online and even harder to buy.
I know it sounds a little cold to talk about money in a book review, but the product you are selling needs to be easy to buy. The more friction, (buttons that need pressing, form spaces that need to be filled out, google searching that must be refined) between a person and a product, the less likely they are to buy.
Secondly, I don’t understand why writers put in quotes from poems or songs and stuff – Do people really read them? Do you read them? Is it just me who skips anything that rhymes or is inset as a separate piece of text?