Tuesday 26 January 2021

Review by Nakisha Towers of "Astral Travel" by Elizabeth Baines

Astral Travel by Elizabeth Baines is a metafictional novel that follows Jo, a writer, who, years after his death, is hit by an unexpected urge to write about her father and the effects of his abuse during her childhood - remnants of which still continue in the lives of his adult daughters.

Framing the narrative is a familiar process of writing and storytelling. Through this process, Jo attempts to understand her father and the many mysteries surrounding his tumultuous and often troubled life. As a result, the book is a weaving together of a life through memories, vague stories and imagination – a tool Jo uses to fill in the gaps of missing or reluctantly provided information. 

Placing her father, posthumously, into the moments of her childhood that she remembers – or thinks she does - Jo tries to re-imagine or even recreate her father’s reaction; forcing him - in death - to confront the torment she experiences as a child. Instead, she is often faced with a deepening sense of the mystery she is attempting to resolve. She's unhelped by her submissive mother, who, in denial, has a stoic unwillingness to face reality.

Baines’s ability to evoke internal outrage and frustration through prose, that is sometimes brutal but always beautiful, is a skill that works so naturally on the page. With her narrator, we re-live painful and disturbing memories of childhood. We feel rage at the injustice she suffered at the hands of both parents. Readers who have had a difficult relationship with a parent may well find themselves re-living their own experiences too. Such is the power of her prose.

The story, that reads more like a fictional autobiography than a novel, is comfortable leaving loose ends; a reminder that, although Jo’s mother does eventually reveal a deep family secret which goes a little way to providing an explanation for her father’s all-consuming rage, real life cannot be tied up in a comfortable, bow-like conclusion.

About the reviewer
Nakisha Towers studied a Creative Writing Masters at the University of Leicester. In between navigating parenting and home-schooling, she likes to write poetry. She is currently re-working a collection of poetry she wrote for her MA dissertation about maternal mental health.

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