BOOK REVIEWS: Stone Yard Devotional by Charlotte Wood & Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Karina Ames

Charlotte Wood’s Stone Yard Devotional and Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow are perfect reads to curl up with during the cooler months.

Each book tells the story of a woman’s journey, interspersed with memory and meditations on relationships and contentment.

In Stone Yard Devotional a woman escapes her life to become cloistered in a community of nuns: despite not believing in God.

On arriving at the community, she finds it ‘shockingly peaceful’.

She needs to contend with a mouse plague, the bones of a murdered nun, the people she has left behind and a figure who reminds her of her past self.

In Cold Enough for Snow the protagonist carefully curates a trip to Japan with her mother to try and bridge the distance between them.

Her need to control the trip and complete activities each day contrasts with her mother’s tiredness.

Her mother tells her there is ‘no control’ and they should pass through life ‘like smoke through the branches’.

Slower pace to savour

These novels offer a slower pace than most contemporary fiction.

Much like nineteenth century novelists, Wood and Au let their pace and prose guide their works, though there are differences in style.

Wood places the reader into the story by using a first-person point of view and not revealing her protagonist’s name.

Charlotte Wood

Au’s prose is lyrical and almost hypnotic in its rhythm, with lines and descriptions needing to be re-read like poetry.

One example is a description of a restaurant by a canal: ‘the water gave a shaking, delicate impression of the world above.’

Jessica Au

On contentment

Both novels explore contentment, including the contentment of silence and of being alone.

Wood’s character is struck by the beauty of silence, ‘not having to explain, or endlessly converse’.

She compares being in the nuns’ community with being a child, as there are no expectations of her.

Au’s character leaves her mother overnight to go hiking, ‘to walk in the woods and among the trees… not to speak to anyone, only to see and hear, to feel lonely.’

Mother-daughter relationships

Wood’s protagonist describes her relationship with her mother in terms of a child-like faith: ‘my mother trusted me, and I trusted her.’

Her journey is an attempt to reconnect with her mother, including through replicating her mother’s disappearances into the garden.

In contrast, Au’s character has an almost manufactured relationship with her mother, with imagined conversations and mis-remembered or untold stories.

She tries to push her mother through activities each day, not recognising the older woman’s weariness.

Contrasting landscapes

These novels are set in vastly different landscapes.

Wood’s character returns to her childhood town and finds ‘the landscape’s desolation beautiful’.

The bare landscape of her childhood becomes a blank canvas to create a new life purpose.

Au’s character travels through crowded urban landscapes in Japan, visiting museums, churches and galleries.

She also travels through inner landscapes crowded by memories and anxiety-laden interactions with her mother.

Award-winning

Both novels have been recognised with literary awards.

Stone Yard Devotional has been included on shortlists for the ABIA Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year and Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 2024.

Cold Enough for Snow was the inaugural winner of the Novel Prize in 2020 and won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, Victorian Prize for Literature and Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.

These books are recommended as quiet, meditative reads.

They inspire reflection and a deeper appreciation of silence and stillness.

Stone Yard Devotional was published in Australia by Allan and Unwin and retails for $32.99.

Cold Enough for Snow was published by Giramondo, New Directions and Fitzcarraldo Editions, with translations in nineteen languages and retails for $26.95.

The reviewer’s copies are from Berkelouw Books Eumundi

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