Book Reviews: Dominique Hecq’s ‘Hush: A Fugue’
UWAP, 2017 | ISBN 9781742589473 | RRP $22.99
Hush is a brutal reminder that in losing someone dear to us, we also lose parts of our own selves. Author Dominique Hecq explores how losing a child to cot death sends tremors through the interconnected identities that a woman can inhabit: partner, lover, woman, intellectual, academic, housemaker, or even mother to a surviving child. Her documentary of loss skillfully and poetically manoeuvres through abrasive Australian domestic landscapes, once warm and sunny with fruit and flowers, now corrupted by whistling, icy wind and razor-sharp deluges. She explores archetypes of mother and death within the home, now shadowy and cold:
The wind blew through the house like in a book I read as a child about a girl who was lost. The wind. Perhaps, I thought, it would crack the lemon tree, the one whose lemons I make lemonade with. The one where ghosts rest and whisper, the one the wind would crack. (25)
Hecq takes us with her through bitter circles of hell, jagged water-hollowed caverns that trap her in anguish. Visions of her baby, waxy and still in his cot, freeze-burn my eyes as she thrashes to fill the bottomless void that has opened up before her. She fights the vacuous pull by engaging in a socially-mediated maternal function: cooking and baking to subsume grief and hunger. Her attraction to rich, sweet and tart dishes and a careful selection of vibrant ingredients unfortunately cannot remedy her pain.
There were pancakes and French toast and brioche. Lemon pudding and orange cake and rhubarb pie and apple crumble. Poppy seed cake. Marzipan. Blueberry muffins. Roasted chestnuts and peppers and eggplants we called aubergines still. Artichoke hearts were preserved, for the child liked the leaves. (23)
They eat. They eat with consideration. Or perhaps this is my own interpretation. (60)
Even if this temporarily works to overwhelm her senses, madness still descends with brute force. Hecq is earth-bound, but where is her lost son? Alone she undertakes the work of relocating herself within in a new world, armed with a brutal discourse that cuts. The sky is a blackness; nature has become violent and sublime. The maternal and the rabid converge as Hecq drives one night through a storm to find the burial ground of her child. Once there, she lurches into the wet soil:
Cold and aching all over … I followed the path. … Here, in the violet light, I read the confirmation of my loss. (42)
Hecq is no stranger to lost children. The sweet promise of ripe, red fruit once lured her away as a child, but a prescient grandmother called her back. We know this happens in fairytales. Children are drawn to the other side of the mirror beyond our grasp, too far for us to claw them back and protect them:
Led astray by a smattering of wild strawberries one early morning in June, I wandered off into the neighbour’s garden. I was not aware of doing anything odd: a scent of roses, carnations and a late-blooming lilac, the sheer beauty of the lime tree showering pollen. I was startled by my grandmother’s troubled and insistent voice calling out for me. Calling out. Calling. (11)
Hecq draws parallels with the tale of Eurydice, and later will delve into what it means to ‘look back.’ She recalls Plato’s hypothesis that Orpheus should have died in order to prove his genuine love and reunite with Eurydice. In contrast, Hecq contemplates self-destruction as a method of reunification, or at least, proof of devotion. She ceases to eat, to speak; her voice dies.
But to do this also raises a duality, as her firstborn son is still alive. To whom and what must she answer? And what will she answer? The function of the mother, to create and sustain life … she fulfils this dutifully by producing sustenance for others. It is only when she forces this maternal overdrive under control that she can relocate her voice, her opportunity to connect emotionally with her surviving child-king. Surrendering visions of her lost son and casting them aside, she returns to the real world and moves forward. However, her motherhood is irrevocably damaged. She perceives of herself from the outside and, calling herself The Mother, she begins a long and painful process of negotiating new boundaries around a new self. This negotiation takes into account the shifts in her state of being:
In writing as in theory and in life, the ‘I’ had splintered: The Mother, for lack of a proper name, formerly myself, listened for the click of the latch in the frame of the front door. She listened for the voice that would ask her a question. She listened and heard a voice. (20)
… I am becoming other, but nothing like the expected antipodean transplant you would have expected. I an extimate exile. (69)
The natural and unnatural world watch from the shadows as she flounders: flora and fauna, honey, amber, snow and flame trees. She is ‘a coffin cold as stone’ in her grief (57); she glows through the morbidity and the grey and the wax and the ice:
Troping into night and death to keep love alive.
Writing the thing itself, magma, lava, boue noire / black mud
liquefying ash. (61)
She also invokes the mystical aspects of our own narratives and religions: angels, ghosts, kings, crowns, and witches’ boats. When combined with her depiction of seeing spectres in the daytime, it becomes apparent that she is wading into the sublime. In the interval, she is the copula between life and death, she is also the force keeping her dead child present. Ultimately she must bid a resigned farewell to her old selves: her self as a mother and her self as a person; her identities, as an individual entity and also as part of a family unit.
Perhaps Hecq sought to engage with nature as a post-traumatic act, as an expression of the sublime—now her status as giver of life has also become giver of death. In creating someone she has also created a death. As a mother myself, I mourn the death to come, but I don’t want to truly comprehend what it means. In reading her book I hope to have created a double, a shadow, that will protect me from experiencing such an event. I hope she will forgive me.