Book Review: ‘A Place Near Eden’ by Nell Pierce

Wow. Wow. Wow. Nell Pierce coming through with the award winning literary fiction. Nell is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. Okay cool Mel, but what does this actually mean? My fellow reading friends, it means that Nell had worked dang hard on her book like all authors, was selected out of a HUGE bunch of unpublished manuscripts, fit the bill of being under the age of 35 AND has now had this manuscript published, promoted and sold with Allen & Unwin. So let me tell you, this book is a no brainer for you to pick up in 2022.

A Place Near Eden follows three main characters; Tilly (Matilda); Sem; and Celeste. Their intricate, manipulative and submissive relationships with one another creates the whirlwind of events and downward spirals in this novel. The overall theme that has really kept me thinking and pondering long after I finished, is manipulation. A Place Near Eden shows the different types of manipulation a person can face in real life. This novel shows strong instances of verbal manipulation, tv and film consumption that had been manipulated to make you believe a persons’ innocence, and manipulation through the streams of social media. There has been a tragic ‘accident’ near Eden and we begin to slowing unfold who was involved by back tracking Tilly’s story, but is Tilly’s story real and honest? Or has it been created through the manipulation and impression of those around her, who are aiming to save themselves by throwing Tilly in the firing line.

At the beginning it is brought to the reader’s attention that teenage Tilly is facing a change in home environment. Her new foster brother Sem, has moved in and her parents are at odds over Sem’s behaviour and his influence on her. Tilly idolises Sem and begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Now bring Celeste into the mix – she is Sem’s ‘girlfriend’ and next door neighbour. Celeste is older than Tilly and has a teenage strength about her. She wears her midriff tops without the worry of wandering eyes, lies and boasts about going all the way with Sem. Celeste creates arguments with her Mum and Sem for no good reason other then wanting to have a fight, she talks Tilly into drinking a lot, she criticises and makes fun of Tilly for getting a job and then goes and gets one herself, she also convinces Tilly to not keep any other friends. Celeste is clever, manipulative and calculating. She can also strongly influence and convince Tilly’s change in mindset, mood and memory.

For me, quite early in, Tilly reads as an unreliable narrator and this kept me flipping the pages. Tilly talks in the past of her coming and going relationships with Sem and Celeste, moving out with Celeste, drinking a lot, counselling sessions arranged by her Dad to draw out information on Sem, her unusual relationship with her near absent mother, and the place of spiritual awakening that Sem and her mother would visit way out bush. Tilly is talking to someone in the present, someone who will be learning about Tilly, Sem and Celeste’s story through a documentary. This documentary has been created, aired and viewed to expose the possible scenarios leading up to the accident near Eden and who is responsible. Due to Tilly being an unreliable narrator, for a long time she is convincing you, as the reader, that she is responsible. She is telling you she has destroyed someone’s life and should be punished – yet as Celeste and Tilly’s relationship begins to unravel, we can’t be so sure as to who’s the guilty one.

This novel is challenging for me to write about without giving too much away. I really enjoyed the not knowingness of jumping in with just the blurb for reference. I want you to experience that unknown feeling too! Therefore, I will finish this review with one of my favourite lines in the book. This stood out to me the moment I read it, as I felt it can sum up Celeste’s mind games, Tilly’s influenced inability to make choices and Sem’s unreliable nature. It can also sum up young adulthood, pivots in life paths and personal growth;

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Sem said. “It’s okay if you don’t see things the way I do. It’s just important to me that I make my own choices, that’s all.”

One big cheer and shout out to Allen & Unwin, as well as Nell Pierce for generously sending me this (now well read, tagged and already passed around) copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’. I am so SO very grateful for the experience 💖

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