Title: The Spill
Author: Imbi Neeme
Published: June 2nd 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize
In 1982, a car overturns on a remote West Australian road. Nobody is hurt, but the impact is felt for decades.
Nicole and Samantha Cooper both remember the summer day when their mother, Tina, lost control of their car – but not in quite the same way. It is only after Tina’s death, almost four decades later, that the sisters are forced to reckon with the repercussions of the crash. Nicole, after years of aimless drifting, has finally found love, and yet can’t quite commit. And Samantha is hiding something that might just tear apart the life she’s worked so hard to build for herself.
The Spill explores the cycles of love, loss and regret that can follow a family through the years – moments of joy, things left unsaid, and things misremembered. Above all, it is a deeply moving portrait of two sisters falling apart and finding a way to fit back together.
‘I realised in that moment that the past was like one of Rosemary’s slinky toys when it got twisted and bent. Even if I managed to untangle all the lies and resentment, I could never fix it.’
The Spill is the debut novel from Australian author Imbi Neeme. The winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize, The Spill is a remarkable and moving composition that explores the complex relationship between two sisters. The impact of time, memory, misunderstanding, secrets, stresses, personal strains and grudges weighs heavily on this strained family unit. The Spill is relayed from a perceptive and reflective approach.
A pivotal moment in time is forever etched on the hearts and minds of the Cooper sisters in Imbi Neeme’s The Spill. A hot summer’s day in remote Western Australia back in 1982 marks a point in time the Cooper family will never forget. When the mother of this family unit loses control her car, the impact of this incident will bear down on the whole family for years to come. The incident acts as a catalyst of sorts, signaling a personal demise, relationship breakdown and trauma. Now, many years after this marked event, the two sisters of this family fold struggle in their own different ways with the secrets they hold and the personal issues that continue to plague them. Through a process of gradual release, The Spill examines concepts of love, family, sisterhood, memories, grief, remorse and personal goals. Overwhelmingly, this is the story of a fractured sibling relationship that has to be repaired through the healing power of time, reflection and communication.
I always find stories about sisterhood and family relations incredibly fascinating. Although I don’t have a sister, I am drawn to novels that explore bonds between sisters. In The Spill we are presented with a relationship dynamic between two very different sisters, who find they have drifted apart over time following the impact of a pivotal event in their lives. The fallout from this situation echoes across time, impacting the characters in deep and contrasted ways.
I took note of the cover quote offered by J.P. Pomare on The Spill which states that ‘the prose thrums and the characters are so deep and richly imagined’. I admire J.P. Pomare, so his quote definitely struck a chord. I have to agree with Pomare’s apt statement. There is something about Neeme’s prose that sets it apart from the crowd, it is poised and reflective. It does seem as though every word, sentence and paragraph has been carefully inserted into the overall frame of this novel, for maximum impact. The format Neeme takes is clear, despite the switches between the past and the present. In The Spill, we bear witness to significant events, or vignettes in the lives of these very interesting sisters. A kaleidoscope of memories, hurt, pain, secrets and regret is presented in The Spill. The expression of these flashes in time and meaningful components in the lives of the Cooper sisters is incredibly honest, thanks to the authorship of Imbi Neeme.
The Spill is a book that I would class as a heavily driven character based piece. We have a thorough exploration of and a rich interrogation into the lives of both sisters. It is obvious from the very beginning these two sisters are completely different and the accident, their mother’s behaviour and the sheer weight of time results in a fractured relationship. Neeme manages to get inside the heads of each sister with ease and personal insight. We understand their inner thoughts, feelings, impressions, problems and memories. The Spill is an emotional tale that will leave quite an impression on you.
Personally, the aspect of the novel that seemed to call to me was the setting. I am a Western Australian, born and bred, so the many references to familiar locations and areas pulled me further into this text. Neeme’s vivid and realistic portrayal of her various settings interchanges worked really well on the pages of this novel. I was impressed!
Sometimes the most powerful and lasting stories to reach a reader’s mind are those drawn from real life. The Spill is inspired by author’s childhood. Imbi Neeme’s debut is a story that resonates, allowing the audience to examine their own personal constructions of the past and the reliance on memory in recalling significant events. The Spill is a considerate novel that I highly recommend.
The Spill by Imbi Neeme was published on 2nd June 2020 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Spill, Imbi Neeme, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Spill is book #70 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge