There, between rafters, like a nestled rat’s hoard or hundreds of stacked insect wings—an ‘affair’ the size of four shoeboxes. Should I blame the workman for opening the ceiling or chide him for failing to throw those boxes out? … A gaping suddenness—that this correspondence might still exist, sketching ghostly stories; throwing old desire into gaudy light. It’s a dream woken into day, or some reconstitution of dust—will the letters vanish if I rub them between my fingers? Meandering sentences drill and rupture time.
When Charity finds letters, journals and sketches in the roof of her great-aunt’s house, she uncovers a rich family history that she must piece together from fragments. Great-aunt Birdie’s letters to her lover are a compelling and revealing account of life for many women in the 1930s. Her experiences as an artist in the first decades of the century, and her earlier relationship with a young man who goes to war, also provide powerful insights into a woman who, as Charity begins to suspect, wanted more than her era would allow.
‘‘The paper cracks’ and the reader is immersed in a narrative of archival discovery and historical reconstruction at the nexus of gender, creative resolve and the pull of social expectations. From the outset, I was captivated by Fugitive Letters’ compact perfection. With honed language and convincing imagery, Atherton and Hetherington’s prose poetry collaboration is more than a fractured love story; it speaks the unspeakable with sympathy and poise.’
‘Fugitive Letters is a bold and lyrical exploration of Australian history, memory, desire and how a woman’s imagining of her life and her world might be represented on the page, in her art and upon her body. Fierce, poetic and lovely. And on top of all that, a damn fine page-turner.’