Book Bingo 2019 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. Each Saturday, on a fortnightly basis, beginning on Saturday 5th January 2019, Ashleigh, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2019 card contains a total of 30 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by the end of December. Two of the Book Bingo entries this year will be flexible, so that means it is completely down us as to when we post these entries, to ensure all 30 are ticked off by the end of the year. Do keep an eye out on our respective blog sites for our bonus round entries! To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! However, as Ashleigh, Theresa and I enjoy similar books, especially books by Australian women writers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with more than one book double up, as was the case in 2018! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, or by visiting The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.
In 2005, Chloe Higgins was seventeen years old. She and her mother, Rhonda, stayed home so that she could revise for her exams while her two younger sisters Carlie and Lisa went skiing with their father. On the way back from their trip, their car veered off the highway, flipped on its side and burst into flames. Both her sisters were killed. Their father walked away from the accident with only minor injuries.
This book is about what happened next.
In a memoir of breathtaking power, Chloe Higgins describes the heartbreaking aftermath of that one terrible day. It is a story of grieving, and learning to leave grief behind, for anyone who has ever loved, and lost.
Grief is such a universal fact of life, but how we express and deal with it is very personalised. The Girls is an exploration of the individualised act of grief, in the face of a catastrophic event. The Girls utterly consumed me. I was struck by the pure honesty, fearlessness and poetic justice author Chloe Higgins conveys through her first book. Even if you haven’t been touched by an episode of loss or grief of the same magnitude as the author, The Girls represents a moving piece of literature.
A tragic, fatal and unexplained accident forms the backbone of this book, penned by debut writer Chloe Higgins. The journey begins on the year 2005, when Chloe and her mother Rhonda make the fateful decision to stay home, while Chloe studied for upcoming high school exams. Chloe’s two younger sisters, Carlie and Lisa, accompany their father on a ski trip. On the way home from this trip, the car journey turns into a tragic scene. The car veers off the road, flips, and promptly bursts into flames, engulfing Chloe’s two sisters before they can be saved. Miraculously, Chloe’s father, who was at the wheel of the car, is pulled from the wreckage and survives the crash. The Girls considers the aftermath of this tragic event. It examines the fallout of this one life defining episode, it also looks at the individual act of grieving, and how this differs from person to person. The Girls considers memory, survivor’s guilt and self-destruction. This is a tender and heartfelt book, that will have you thinking very differently about the way in which we express and handle grief.
A recent author in conversation event at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Western Australia put me in touch with The Girls, the first publication from Chloe Higgins. In fact, this locale has a strong bearing The Girls, Chloe Higgins was an emerging writing in residence at the centre, as indicated in the acknowledgements section of this book. To be honest, a grief based memoir is not my usual fare, but something about Chloe’s story spoke to my heart and I found myself completely in awe of this author’s story.
Firstly, I was struck by the style of prose adopted by Higgins for her first book. It is well versed, poetic, measured, stark and bold. I think my list of descriptors could go on as I was completely impressed by The Girls. I am confident that Chloe Higgins is destined to write and I know that writing provides her with a sense of grounding. For Chloe, writing is her fuel, it is part of her daily ritual, along with exercise, sleep and travel. I felt inspired after reading this book and hearing Chloe Higgins speak to her audience in person.
From The Girls, I was able to glean so much about the process and act of grief. This book challenged my preconceptions and experiences. Most of all, it reminds us that grief is really down to the person. How Chloe, her mother and father chose to confront the immense grief that they faced varied a great deal. In Chloe, we see a lost young soul, desperately gripping onto the fragments of life that she believes will help her understand her loss. Chloe explicitly highlights a no holds back style commentary on her struggles with mental health, her psychiatric incarceration, self-harm, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, sex work, promiscuity, hedonism, travel, rituals and formative relationships. On the other hand, Chloe’s mother is a very different soul, who expresses her grief in a contrasted way. On the other hand, Chloe’s father is utterly consumed with his grief, which is painstakingly revealed through the files of information and diary entries that he passed on to Chloe while she was writing this book. I walked away from reading these segments of the story with such a heavy heart, but hearing this side of the story was important.
The structure of The Girls runs through Chloe Higgins’ life just before the crash, to the accident itself and the aftermath. The book also considers how it has impacted the author’s life right up until the book’s publication deadline, which was March 2019. The feel of this book is almost like a stream of consciousness, it is a constant flow of thoughts, ideas, expressions and recollections. A precursor to each new chapter, outlining Chloe’s age, the date and location Chloe is based at provides grounding for the reader. It helps to orientate you within Chloe’s often frantic experiences. For me, the part of the book that held the most meaning were the simple meditations on grief that Chloe gleans along the way. These poignant segments are like a guiding light, in the face of such incredible loss.
The Girls is a symbolic meditation on the impact of one tragic day. Chloe Higgins opens up a vital conversation around the act of grief, feelings of guilt, the relationship breakdowns, the survival instinct, the impact of loss on the self, life choices and healing, in the face of emotional pain. The Girls is an unflinching account of immeasurable loss and it is an essential book that I recommend to all.
**** 4.5 stars
The Girls by Chloe Higgins was published on 27th August 2019 by Picador, details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Girls, Chloe Higgins, visit here.
The Girls is book #131 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge