The MinnowThe Minnow by Diana Sweeney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actual rating: 3.5 stars

The Minnow is a strange book. That’s one of the things I like about it but it also raises some difficulties. It has a dreamlike quality that I really loved, along with the way it slipped between the realities of death and dying, and an active dream-life. However, the story at times seemed disconnected, partly because of the structure and partly because some elements were either unexplained or didn’t fit.

As a meditation on grief it works really well. I think that’s why Sweeney chose to use a vignette style of writing- to give a sense of dislocation – because the main character, Tom, had her whole life shattered when she lost her immediate family in a flood that washed through her small town. This is a reality that many people in Queensland (the state where I live) faced a few years ago when a horrific flood literally wiped out almost an entire town. The portrayal of Tom does give a glimpse of how it must feel to face that kind of devastation, and so in this way the novel succeeds. I’m not sure that it succeeds as a young adult novel, however.

In the acknowledgements the author thanks someone for flagging her manuscript as YA, and the manuscript won the Text Prize for an unpublished young adult manuscript. There are, of course, no distinct lines between a young adult and an adult novel, but for me the young adult genre sets up some expectations around providing insight into the difficulties of navigating teenage years and approaching adulthood. For me, the novel didn’t work in this way. Of course many others will think differently.

Sweeney has done a great job of producing a gentle novel that allows the reader to connect with the realities of grief. It is a sensitive and often sweet novel. But at times it was a frustrating read, and as a reader it left me with questions unanswered. Recommended for those who enjoy a novel that is meditative and thoughtful, and love poignant and poetic writing.

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