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Posted on 6 May 2021 in Fiction |

EMILY MAGUIRE Love Objects. Reviewed by Linda Godfrey

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The sixth novel from the author of An Isolated Incident and Fishing for Tigers explores hoarding, shame and class.

Narrated from the points of view of three people from the same extended family, Love Objects is a study of hoarding, violations of private spaces, consent and social class.

Nic lives alone in her parents’ home and works in a low-paid job in retail. She is on good terms with her work colleagues, her neighbours and the local feral cats.

As she walks home from work, she collects information about events and happenings in her neighbourhood. There are clues all may not be as it seems. When she sees a poster for a service to lose weight, rather than taking one tear-off tab with the service’s contact details, she takes the whole poster.

The picture builds as we see Nic collect more papers on her way home, and her satisfaction when she finds her letterbox stuffed with catalogues, which she takes inside to sort and stack.

She puts today’s newspaper on the kitchen table, where it slips about for a few seconds before settling nicely. It would sit on the kitchen table until she had a chance to finish reading it, and if that hasn’t happened by bedtime she will put it with its colleagues in the hallway, waiting for a day when she has more time, better concentration.

Nic is a chronic hoarder. She can only just squeeze through the front door of her house, and every room is piled high with accumulated objects. Today, she has found a doll’s bonnet and needs to find the perfect place for it. We get a sense of Nic’s connections to all the objects in the house; she has a story to tell about each of them. This parallels her love for her niece and nephew, Lena and Will. As Nic moves around the house we learn about her devotion to these two, her difficult relationship with their mother, Michelle, and get a glimpse into her thinking as she talks to the doll’s bonnet she has found on the street:

‘Welcome beautiful,’ she says and drapes it over the hook. Her whole body hums with the rightness of it. Like it’s 1996 and she’s in the back seat of Tony’s Datsun again. Like it’s 1999 and she’s holding Lena for the first time. Like it’s 2003 and she is being held by her dying mother and the fear that she is unlovable even to the woman who gave birth to her dissipates and is replaced by the surety of her worth. Some things your body just knows.

Nic has climbed onto piles of sliding boxes and bags to put the bonnet on the hook, and slips and falls. She cannot move because of the injury and because piles of objects are in the way.

Nic has a regular date with Lena, her niece, for breakfast on Sundays at a café. Lena is never invited into the house. This one Sunday, Nic does not appear and after waiting a long time, Lena panics and goes to the house. Nic doesn’t answer the door. Lena gets the police to break in. Now, Nic’s world is exposed for all to see.

Nic is taken to hospital. She has been lying in the house for days and is no longer conscious. After an extended stay, the social worker tells Lena that Nic cannot go home with her house in that state and it has to be cleaned out.

Lena meanwhile has a drama of her own. She is at university, the first of her family to do so. She supports herself with a fellowship from the university and casual work, living hand to mouth. She sits near a very attractive preppy guy, Josh. Lena assumes he comes from a monied family by the look of his clothes, his skin, his haircut. He shows an interest in her, sits next to her in class, walks her to the bus stop after class, kisses her. Lena is very keen on him, so when he suggests sex, she is definitely up for it. They can’t go to her place, he says he has room-mates at home, so he asks a friend if they can use his room. They have amazing sex. Then Lena is caught up in Nic’s crisis. Soon enough though, images and messages appear on her phone: Josh had taped their sex session and posted it on the internet across multiple sites.

Lena’s and Nic’s stories parallel each other. Both have been shamed in public. Nic’s exposure is relatively contained, shared only with Lena, Will and the social worker, though others have seen her place – the police, ambulance workers – and soon there will be a large garbage skip outside the house.

Lena’s shame is spreading further and further as each new site uploads the video, and the comments about her have become nastier and more violent. Lena keeps all this to herself as she focuses on Nic’s recovery.

The third strand of the story is about Will, Lena’s brother and Nic’s nephew. He’s been away in prison for dealing dope. Being inside seems to be a family trait – both his grandfather and father have been in gaol. Will’s imprisonment seems unjustified. He was under 18, working class, and so went to prison for his first offence. Now he is out, has been dropped by his girlfriend, has no money and a rotten tooth that is causing him great pain. He scrapes together the train fare to Sydney, to Nic and Lena.

Lena, with Will’s help, begins to clean out Nic’s house so that she can return home from hospital. Lena doesn’t tell Will about her shaming video and he doesn’t tell her about his rotting toothache, so the pain and anguish of this family continues, as is their pattern, in silence, hidden from each other.

The parallel stories really kick into gear when Nic comes home from hospital to find that her house, with the exception of one room, has been cleared out.

Nic’s feelings about the cleared house parallel those of Lena when she sees the video online. They have both been stripped of their dignity, their most intimate and private selves exposed to the world, violated by those they felt they could trust and helpless to do anything about it.

There are no easy answers for either of their problems – Nic’s heartbreak over her empty house or how Lena can get the offending video down off the net.

No solutions are offered for Nic’s hoarding. After her return from hospital, her mindset has not changed. We see her out on the street, again going through garbage bins, stuffing papers and pamphlets into her bag to take home ‘for sorting’.

The novel’s depiction of hoarding is realistic, offering no easy theories to explain or resolve it. Nic holds objects dear to her because she has attached to them memories and emotions of people and things she has lost.

Emily Maguire has created a world we know and peopled it with characters we can care about. Most importantly, her novel leaves us with complex questions to consider; their answers are not easy to find.

Emily Maguire Love Objects Allen and Unwin 2021 PB 400pp $32.99

Linda Godfrey is a poet, editor and teacher. She lives on Wodi Wodi land, on the south coast of New South Wales.

You can buy Love Objects from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.

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