Title: The Breeding Season
Author: Amanda Niehaus
Published: September 3rd 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 stars
The rains come to Brisbane just as Elise and Dan descend into grief. Elise, a scientist, believes that isolation and punishing fieldwork will heal her pain. Her husband Dan, a writer, questions the truths of his life, and looks to art for answers. Worlds apart, Elise and Dan must find a way to forgive themselves and each other before it’s too late.
An astounding debut novel that forensically and poetically explores the intersections of art and science, sex and death, and the heartbreaking complexity of love. The Breeding Season marks the arrival of a thrilling new talent in Australian literature.
The Breeding Season is a raw, honest and devastating look at the impact of loss, reproduction and mortality. It is also a fusion of art and science. A writer and scientist must confront the overwhelming grief they are faced with following a heartbreaking loss. It is a traumatic journey of secrets, truths and forgiveness for this couple.
The Breeding Season is a 2019 Allen and Unwin debut publication from ‘thrilling new Australian talent’ Amanda Niehaus. The story begins in Brisbane and charts the pain of the loss of a stillborn child. The focus couple of the novel deal with their grief in different ways. For Elise, a scientist, the grief process involves further dedication to her gruelling field work. Elise selects complete isolation, rather than connection, in order to completely distract her from the immense pain she is experiencing. On the other hand, Dan is an artist, a writer who uses his craft as a vehicle to express his pain. The gap between this couple widens as they are plunged into a world of heartbreak, devastation and blame. The Breeding Season looks at the emotionally complex and fraught journey of love, life, birth and death. Dan and Elise must find a way to accept and pardon themselves from the great loss they have experienced.
The striking cover of a bird trapped in a net, acts as a symbol for the grief, loss and sense of entrapment experienced by the couple of this book. Amanda Neihaus is a debut novelist, but she comes to her first novel with a background in science. Niehaus was also mentored by bestselling author Alice Sebold. The Breeding Season is a provocative and intriguing novel, that I feel worked as a essay on grief.
I was initially struck by the evocative setting of this novel, set in Queensland. Niehaus provides a rich meditation on the rains of the region. The sense of place is firmly rooted in this novel and Niehaus engages the strong presence of Mother Nature to draw her reader into Elise and Dan’s world.
‘They’re on a street called Boundary when the rain hits, flops onto the car with a cold, hard tapping that reminds him of fish, a shoal of hard-bodied fish throwing themselves against the metal shell of the car.’
The narrative is etched with many touching and poetic passages. The text is rhythmic and creative in tone. There were times when I was taken by the simple but raw moments present in The Breeding Season. However, I have to admit that this book was not easy feat, it was hard going, especially in the spiralling dark moments. Literary fiction fans will be sure to appreciate the Niehaus’ approach.
The Breeding Season is a novel that is thought provoking and confrontational. It provides a critical, but also sensitive examination into relationships, pregnancy, loss, marriage strains, careers, illness, death, art, science and reconciliation. These are well heeled themes, that are intimately explored by Neihaus, within the context of her involving but often meandering narrative.
The focus couple of the novel, Elise and Dan, are contrasted well by Niehaus. There is a dichotomy between the art and science world. Elise is a devoted scientist and I appreciated overseeing her field work studies. Dan is a man of words. He channels his grief in the written form, but he is also plagued by obsessive moments, namely his fixation on his uncle’s muse, which was a little odd. As the book progressed, Elise and Dan move further apart and it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Dan began to earn my ire, rather than my sympathies. My relationship to this couple became much more strained as the story developed.
Ultimately, The Breeding Season is a complex and often upsetting exploration into the modes of grief. I had quite a cerebral response to this piece of literary fiction, at times it offered moments of clarity, but it also confused and destroyed me. I did appreciate the synthesis of science and art that pervades this novel. I am definitely interested to see what Amanda Niehaus will tackle in her next piece of writing.
The Breeding Season by Amanda Niehaus was published on 3rd September 2019 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Breeding Season, Amanda Niehaus, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Breeding Season is book #138 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge