Sunday, 12 May 2019


Vicki Laveau-Harvie won the 2019 Stella Prize and 2018 Finch Memoir Prize for her remarkable memoir, The Erratics (2018).  The author grew up just south of Calgary in Alberta, Canada near a remarkable glacial rock formation known as the Erratics.

Her childhood was traumatic due to her mother's behaviour and, upon reaching adulthood, Vicki and her sister both moved away from home. Residing in Europe, Asia and later Australia, Vicki became estranged from her parents who had ''disowned and disinherited' both their daughters.

One day Vicki gets word that her mother's hip has crumbled and she has been hospitalised. Vicki ventures back to Canada after a twenty-year absence, to help care for her elderly father. Vicki and her sister arrive at their childhood home only to find that their father has been essentially imprisoned. He is malnourished, medicated and has had all ties cut with the outside world by their mother. The sisters set about cleaning up the toxic house, which has become a hoarder's delight, and trying to reconnect with their father. They are deeply concerned that if their mother returns home, she will continue her abuse and eventually kill their father, so they work to ensure she stays away long enough to rescue their dad. In coming home the siblings need to confront their past, and their differing perspectives, to try and save their family.

Vicki's mother is like a monster in the closet or under the bed. We see little of her in this book, though she is a threatening presence throughout. The mother is manipulative, charismatic, narcissistic and cruel, but I never really got to understand why or how she became this way. Clearly she has had a tremendous impact on her children as Vicki is full of anger and pain. Her sister is too, but she has a different response and will shoulder much of the burden of caring for the father because she is nearer and feels obligated.

This memoir was bleak, but there was a dark humour that ran throughout, allowing light to get in. I read it in one sitting, and it was a gripping book. As a Canadian ex-pat living in Australia, I immediately felt nostalgic for my own childhood home. But there was something missing for me. Perhaps it was the detached narrative voice, as though Vicki didn't want to get too close to her own story.

In terms of The Erratics winning the Stella Prize, I am not sure why this book was chosen. I have read past Stella Prize winners like Heather Rose's The Museum of Modern Love (2017), Charlotte Wood's The Natural Way of Things (2016) and Emily Bitto's The Strays (2015) and took great delight in each of them. I would have preferred this prize to go to other nominated books like Bri Lee's memoir Eggshell Skull or Chloe Hooper's The Arsonist, both of which I found to be better written.