Readers of the award-winning Sydney author Dr Stephanie Bishop will know that things are rarely what they seem. In this haunting story, we witness a tragedy. The narrator, a novelist known as JB Blackwood, is on a cruise with her husband Patrick. They are there ostensibly to celebrate their wedding anniversary but really it’s a rather half-hearted attempt to save their crumbling marriage. They argue, they drink, and one night in a storm Patrick is lost overboard.

But this story is much more than a who-dunnit or a simple thriller; it’s an absorbing dissertation on truth and reality and the counterfactual. As JB muses: “There were things that I wanted to say. Things I knew I couldn’t say but needed to tell someone. And then the things I knew I should say. What they wanted to hear. There is never only one version.”

JB had been young, inexperienced, and impressionable when she fell into bed (and in love) with Patrick – at that time, her university lecturer. Over the years, the power dynamics between them had shifted seismically as she grew up and he grew old.

Wrapped up in this, THE ANNIVERSARY is also a penetrating exploration of art and the ego. Just as Patrick’s popularity as the darling of the indie film scene is fading, JB is a rising star in the literary world, further rocking the foundations of their marriage.

The novel questions how we negotiate the complexities of human relationships over the passage of time, especially with all these other emotions and pressures at play. JB is also haunted by a past tragedy, the disappearance of her mother when she was a young child.

Stephanie Bishop writes with a gentle touch. Her prose is richly textured and deeply resonant. There is a graceful cadence especially in the quieter moments of introspection. Somewhat disconcertingly,  it’s not always clear in the text whether the dialogue is being spoken in conversation or is an internal dialogue. This uncertainty is intriguing for a while but does become a little tiresome in a novel of 400+ pages. There is a surreal quality throughout the book reminiscent of those ‘sea-legs’ you experience when you first step back onto solid ground.

In the last chapter, JB says “I have lived out my own counterfactuals, or become them, in opposition to my conscious and professed desires – complicit in my own downfall…”. This may be true of Bishop’s characters and perhaps it’s true of us all to some extent. Can we ever really know our own truth, much less that of anyone else?

THE ANNIVERSARY is an absorbing novel that will stay with you long after you reach the final page. Highly recommended.

Review by Dr Diana Carroll

Publisher : Hachette

Recommended Retail Price : $32.99

ISBN 978 0733649165