Myfanwy Jones’s Leap is all about urgent motion. At the novel’s heart is the question of how we navigate grief and then move on. Twenty-two-year-old Joe shares a home in Melbourne with his best friends, Sanjay and Jack. Into this male environment – with its unwashed dishes, pot and scuffed carpet – enters a nurse who rents the lean-to and is saving money for a long trip abroad.
Joe is transfixed by the lithe nurse with her pale skin, cropped black hair and green eyes. In the half-light between dusk and dawn they start an affair, yet he struggles to voice an uncomfortable feeling that she is uncanny. She reminds him of his girlfriend Jen, who died a few weeks after their final school exams in a drunken accident.
While his friends study at university, Joe works dead-end jobs and, besieged by guilt, refuses to invest in his own life. For hours he flicks through Facebook photographs of Jen, looking for something that will really hurt, and when spunky friend Lena shows an interest in him, he fobs her off despite being attracted to her.
Across town, graphic designer Elise is retreating from the loss of her daughter. With her marriage in critical condition, her only sanctuary is watching tigers at the zoo. Stifling happiness is the certainty that now, in middle age, “there can be no new beginnings… there is only ever after”, a second half of their lives to live out in painful silence.
Redemption comes. Both Elise and Joe find some relief in a physical act: Elise in secretly sketching the tigers and Joe in parkour, disciplining himself to vault and run through the urban landscape that snatched away his first love. For hot-blooded Joe, the hungry relief of losing himself in sex is luminous, too.
Occasionally Leap’s central metaphor and frequent cat references are overstretched; likewise, its hipster setting (Joe literally jumps across town, Lena skates) can feel like a bit of a parody. This is a small quibble, though, in a book that is gripping, tender and endowed with a touch of magic.
Much of this is due to language. In Leap, stems of wild orchids become “troupes of tiny golden ballet dancers” and a suburban street “is curved like a smile with weatherboard teeth”. Joe describes himself early on as an actor in a “sloppy play”, but with such poetic precision and pulsating plot, Leap is anything but. EA
Allen & Unwin, 336pp, $26.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 23, 2015 as "Leap, Myfanwy Jones". Subscribe here.