WHAT THE GROUND CAN’T HOLD
Author: Shady Cosgrove
Picador RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Two Americans are presumed dead and nine people are trapped in a cabin after an avalanche in the remote Andes…
Wow. That was the first thing that came to mind when I finished Shady Cosgrove’s stunning novel, What The Ground Can’t Hold. It’s one of those books that leaves you wondering, hoping, thinking and remembering all at once; it’s an open-ended book that leaves you wanting and yet satisfied. I loved it. I want to read it again.
A cast of troubled, secretive and determined characters peoples What The Ground Can’t Hold. Stuck in a remote mountain cabin following an avalanche, the ensemble must come to terms with each other and with themselves … and the possibility that they might not make it back to civilisation. There’s Emma, an Australian who’s in Argentina following the revelation that she is adopted and that her parents were victims of Argentina’s Dirty War; angry and lost, she came to the cabin with two American men (Jeremy and John) who are now presumed dead. There’s Jack, an angsty 16-year-old obsessed with Jack Kerouac and despising his parents for moving him away from his girlfriend; Jack forms a friendship with Carmen, a 20-something tango dancer whose estranged father is dying of cancer. Pedro, the cabin manager has his own reasons for making a life for himself in the mountains, and these are challenged when Wolfe turns up, confrontational and full of questions. The story is told through the different viewpoints of these characters, revealing their differing reactions to events and each other, and revealing (to the reader) a common bond most are unaware of.
How people react in situations says a lot about their character. I like the way What The Ground Can’t Hold explores this concept by allowing each of the main characters to have a say; their voices re-tell the same scene from a different perspective, adding depth, but then propel the story along so momentum is not lost. The different voices bring depth, not only through their perspectives, but also through the different cultures and lifestyles they have led prior to this point. The secondary character Jeremy (one of the two lost in the avalanche) does not fare well in the eyes of others – he’s manipulative and cunning, but while some see through him straight away, others are more trusting. The novel also explores the way the past catches up with people, shaking foundations they may have worked hard to build or repair; the setting of unstable snow-covered ground in the mountains is the perfect metaphor to illustrate and enhance the point. You can run, but you can’t hide. Wherever you go, there you are. The situation the characters find themselves in causes them to examine their own strengths and weaknesses and in the end, each one has come a long way in a matter of days.
What The Ground Can’t Hold is cleverly constructed and the writing spot on. What I found interesting was how my feelings towards the different characters changed over time, as I got to know them through their own voice, and later, through others. Cosgrove delivers a story that’s filled with warmth and ice – there are as many heart-warming moments, teary moments and sad moments as there are haunting and chilling moments. The plot is well paced and the story believable. I don’t know much about the Dirty War in Argentina, or Argentina itself, so there was a lot of historical information in there to tempt the nerdy me as well. The ending is … well, it’s unexpected. Loved this – it’s one of my favourites this year.
Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan Australia. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Bookish treat: How can I go past a coffee granita?