by Sonia Orchard
29 August 2019
This piece discusses mental illness, death and dying, and may contain content that some people find disturbing. If you need help please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Sonia Orchard’s third book Into the Fire is a beautifully written and deceptive page turner, that’s also difficult to read at times. It follows Lara, Alice (Lara’s best friend) and Crow (Alice’s partner). The novel begins a year after Alice’s death in a house fire; and while Lara is trying to get her head around it all, she just can’t come to terms with the loss. Logic says there’s no more she could have done, but she can’t escape the feeling that she’s somehow to blame.
For large tracts, this novel saunters — not meandering or purposeless, but with an understated self confidence, and as Lara’s, Alice’s and Crow’s shared past is revealed, unsettling truths are unearthed, allowing both writer and reader to intimately explore the politics of power and womanhood, and to reflect on guilt, friendship, motherhood and love.
Into the Fire is about looking for answers and truth, and investigates how all of us deploy personal ‘narrative’ and ‘biography’ as survival strategy. As Lara unravels what she believes to be an uncontested past between the three of them, she’s confronted by a shared history that is not so much a set of agreed-upon and concrete events, but more a pile of messy and intangible stuff. She begins questioning her memories and second guessing her decisions, and ultimately her pursuit of answers exposes uncomfortable truths about all three of them. Without giving too much away, Into the Fire does not shy away from dealing with some dark themes. I’ll leave the last word to Louise Swinn (Sydney Morning Herald) who sums the novel up best:
Into the Fire is a superbly crafted novel; the pacing of the plot allows for a psychologically unnerving unravelling, like a slow thriller – almost a whodunit. Orchard makes a mockery of the phrase ‘difficult second novel’, expertly showing how easy it is to be blindsided by the charm of an egoist.
Sonia Orchard is a freelance writer and creative writing teacher, and alongside Into the Fire she is also the author of Something More Wonderful (her 2003 memoir), which was an Australian bestseller, and The Virtuoso, her first novel, which won the 2009 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction. Into the Fire is published by Australian publisher Affirm Press, and is available at bookshops or online at affirmpress.com.au.