Vera Magpie by Laura Solomon.
Hong Kong: Proverse Hong Kong (2015).
RRP: $24 from Fishpond.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman.
Laura Solomon’s novella, Vera Magpie, started life as an E-Book in 2013. It is now a small paperback, the reading of which is like eating chocolate. From the first shocking sentence: ‘I have murdered three husbands’, you have to consume more. At times a black comedy, a tragedy, a farce, a horror, a comic, a confessional, it is full of colourful vignettes which hook you in and swish you through the 79 pages of the story and all of which you don’t know whether to believe or not. Vera (whose name connotes truth, faith) makes a significant statement: ‘How great was the gap between fantasy and bitter reality’ (p 61).
Vera narrates from her Holloway prison cell whilst serving a life sentence. The story alternates between childhood and adult life before her incarceration and her present life inside. She is chatty and upbeat (like her avian namesake), so much so that despite sinister and criminal tendencies she is strangely likable. She recounts her story as if sitting beside you on a bus. At times it is too lightly sketched, detached, but basically it is the story of her survival and her strong will. ‘I am skilled at survival’ she says (p 18) and ‘A girl needs dreams’ (28). These are strong themes. Survival of her male-controlled, abused past and her present hostile prison conditions alternate with childhood and adult dreams of ‘an illusory nature’ (p 81) which sustain her throughout.
Vera embarks on a course of study whilst she serves time. Through literature she discovers feminist views of the world. Reading becomes a solace, the library an escape, and a healing process begins. She ponders her unhappy past. She determines to change all this. Fortunately, with the help of Libby, a smart woman lawyer who re-visits Vera’s case, there is a chance she may be released if they plead Battered Woman’s Defense. Libby says: ‘I’m here for the details’ (p 42) and takes notes for the case. The information the reader is given could well be these notes.
Laura Solomon has published four novels, two plays, a poetry collection, and has received the International Proverse Prize (2009) for her previous novella, Instant Messages. It is disappointing that, on this occasion, the publisher has let her down. Nevertheless, Vera Magpie is a cheeky read. Take it on a boring bus journey.
Elizabeth Coleman lives in Waikanae and has a strong interest in the poetry scene on the Kapiti Coast. She has been published in journals and magazines such as 4th Floor, takahē; in anthologies including Dear to Me, Swings & Roundabouts; has participated in performance poetry entitled Eyes in the Skies and has judged competition poetry.
First published takahe 87