Pages Menu
Abbey's Bookshop
Plain engish Foundation
Categories Menu

Posted on 6 Jun 2024 in Non-Fiction | 0 comments

NOVA WEETMAN Love, Death and Other Scenes. Reviewed by Michael Jongen

Tags: / / / / / / / /

Nova Weetman’s memoir about the loss of her husband and its impact on her family is both intimate and surprisingly uplifting. 

Nova Weetman has written a beautiful book about death and being left behind. I was moved by the story of the passing of her partner, playwright Aidan Fennessy, and its effect on her and her teenage children. 

I am familiar with Weetman’s middle-grade novels as well as her columns in The Age. When the book came out I was expecting that it would be a well-written exploration of a death in the family. I was not prepared to be so moved, saddened and delighted. This is an intimate and emotional work and reading it was uplifting. 

Set against the backdrop of Victoria’s COVID lockdowns in 2020, it is also a fine piece of writing about that era in Melbourne. 

A year or so after Aidan died, a friend mounted a student production of the play [What Rhymes With Cars and Girls] at the school where she worked. We drove out to watch it on a freezing Saturday night, sitting together under layers of blankets we lugged with us from home. The audience seats were one and a half metres apart because of social distancing but I could still hear my son unwrapping his Chupa Chups in the dark.

The cast were two Year 12 students, and the line-up of musicians and teachers at the school. It wasn’t polished like the Melbourne Theatre Company production had been, but it was full of the same heart and the same magic.

As the character of Johnno spoke about his tank of tropical fish, the kids both looked down the line of the seats at me, recognising the reference to our aquatic pets and understanding that their dad had woven details of their lives into his plays.

Weetman writes about the body of work that remains after an artist dies, and how seeing a performance of Fennessy’s work again was a gift. The play was influenced by a Tim Rogers album and features his songs. Weetman recounts how she and her children listened to that CD on the way home: 

Like it is a trail of breadcrumbs leading us to understanding Aidan in a different way.

She writes about her children and their lives as they tiptoe around the sick room, the makeshift hospital room in their home where Aiden prefers to be rather than in hospital. 

Weetman also harks back to the death of her mother 10 years earlier:

The night of mum’s funeral, Aiden apologised to me that he couldn’t be more present for my grief. He tried to explain that the tone of the winter light affected him because his sister had died at the same time of the year. He believed that you stored grief in your body and it returned when the environment was right.

Then he told me, ‘I’m done with death.’

At the time it stung that he was so cavalier with my loss. But now that he’s gone too and my grief has leaked out onto everything, I understand what he meant. There’s a limit to how much you can feel. And to how many treasured people you can farewell without being changed.

Aiden might have been done with death but, of course death is never done with anyone.

Weetman writes movingly of the family’s life as Fennessy lies dying: the need to get on with the practical things; the relationship between herself and Fennessy as creators, and the influence they had on each other, although their writing did not overlap; the strength and support provided by family and friends. 

For me the heart and soul of this memoir is the tight unit Weetman forms with her children as they live through Fennessy’s illness, his death and its aftermath. These are the saddest moments in the book, yet Weetman avoids being maudlin. She recounts how there is a dedication to Fennessy on ABC Radio and Tim Rogers speaks and plays a version of Morrissey’s ‘This Charming Man’ as a tribute. Weetman, who is listening as she drives down the freeway with her children, has to pull over.

My son reached for my shoulder from the back seat and I tried to bring the three of us together but it was all too much. The kids didn’t talk and nothing I said came out the way it should. I was filling gaps, making noise, chattering to try to bridge what we were all feeling. But it didn’t work. Tim finished singing and the radio show moved on to something else. I turned it off and pulled back onto the freeway 

There is an inner strength to the writing and the book is a fitting celebration of Aiden Fennessy’s life and his role as a partner and a father. It is filled with marvellous anecdotes and very philosophical as Weetman reflects on a 25-year relationship that has ended too soon. 

It is also a loving tribute to her children and what they endured with the lockdowns and Covid. It is honest and authentic and a story for everyone.

Nova Weetman Love, Death and Other Scenes UQP 2024 PB 288pp $34.99

Michael Jongen is a librarian and you can find him as @larrydlibrarian on Instagram and Threads.

You can buy Love, Death and Other Scenes from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

If you’d like to help keep the Newtown Review of Books a free and independent site for book reviews, please consider making a donation. Your support is greatly appreciated. 

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *