“Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds …” The stuttering, staccato poetry of Emma Glass’s dark and surreal debut novel grabs you by the throat from the very first sentence and throws you straight into the head of the young protagonist, Peach. This is not an easy place to be. When the book opens, she has just been violently raped. Foul with the stench of violation, split open physically and emotionally, Peach makes her way home, leaving vomit and blood in her wake. Over the following days she swells, ripens and grows fat with the bottled-up pain, fear and horror, her terrible, terrifying secret.
Peach’s cartoonishly sexed-up parents remain cheerfully oblivious to their daughter’s pain. Other people around her, sensing that something is wrong, but not knowing what, metamorphose, dissolve, change shape. Her teacher, Mr Custard, ripples, wobbles and plops. Her loving boyfriend, Green, is more or less a tree with woody knots on his chest; his twiggy arms touch the ceiling and his jaw touches the floor when he stretches. Meanwhile, her sadistic and depraved attacker, Lincoln, stalks her, lurking in the shadows, dripping grease and smelling like sausage meat… or is this yet another phantom thrown up by her traumatised psyche?
This short novel demands to be read aloud: “… I am surprised, splutter and splutter and suck in water, gulp in greasy water so greasy, tastes so meaty …” “The breath I breathe out freezes to fog and floats away. The day has turned grey.” In its conspicuous virtuosity, Peach calls to mind Tom Robbins, though Glass is a very different, more contemporary, experimental and, obviously, feminist writer, and to my mind a better one. Her prose is hypnotic in its repetitions and the way it tosses and tugs at individual words, spinning them this way and that, creating a floor of marbles on which the reader is in danger of slipping. Is Peach a fable? Allegory? Psychological realism? Magical realism? Surrealism?
If Peach’s fattening is a hallucination, why does everyone else see it? Is Green’s friend Spud just a solid sort of bloke or, well, a potato? Does it matter? Am I embarrassing myself by even asking? Glass’s shape-shifting narrative pulls the rug out from under itself so relentlessly and acrobatically that readers will either roll with it the whole way or tumble off and stumble away, faintly bilious and unsure what kind of ride that was. CG
Bloomsbury Circus, 112pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 3, 2018 as "Emma Glass, Peach ". Subscribe here.