Cheltenham Literature Festival Blog Tour: The Melting – Lize Spit

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”
― Danielle Bernock

It’s really hard to believe that this is Lize Spit’s first novel – if she has more in store then I have no doubt that the literary community will be well served.

The Melting was difficult to put down, but also really quite challenging to read. Reader beware, this is a very dark book, definitely not for the faint of heart, and worth a trigger warning or two. It makes for uncomfortable reading, but is at once fascinating, thrilling and disturbing – like watching a disaster unfold in slow motion.

I went into this book with my eyes half open and little more than a vague notion of what Spit had in stock. I got a general gist of the few key themes from scanning the blurb – switching between past and present tense, a journey, the promise of revenge – I also skimmed over the testimonials on the back cover – a few words stood out to me, terrifying, disturbing, challenging. That said, I wasn’t that well equipped to handle what was thrown at me.

Eva is a young Flemish woman travelling back to her hometown in rural Flanders to attend a party being thrown by one of her childhood friends, Pim. She hasn’t spoken to Pim, or her other childhood friend, Laurens, for more than 13 years – since the summer of 2002. In the boot of her car is a large block of ice. The Melting is Eva’s tale, it traces her movements, from her small flat in Brussels, to the milk shed on Pim’s farm, switching between past and present tense, to reveal the real reason for her journey.

Eva’s life is tragic. Along with her siblings, she suffers neglect and abuse at the hands of her incompetent, alcoholic parents. There is a profound sadness in the family’s existence, and despite the carelessness, and apparent disinterest with which they treat their children, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for the mother and father. Eva has a very obvious and devastating desire for love, compassion and warmth. She doesn’t really take any joy in anything, she plods through life, desperate to be accepted, willing to do anything, to comply, to stay quiet – until it’s too late.

While The Melting is Eva’s story – it also reveals, the suffering of her younger sister Tessie. Her name the diminutive of a sister who passed away years before she was born. She is the ‘little runt’ of the family, slight, fragile, her skin practically translucent. She encompasses disfunction. While Eva internalises her issues, quietly accepting her fate, Tessie is outwardly troubled, neurotic and broken. Eva is desperate to help Tessie, without ever really knowing how, and it’s clear that she blames herself for not doing more.

I was three quarters of my way through the book when the penny dropped, and I realised what Eva planned to do with the block of ice in her boot. Eva reveals story bit by bit, slowly drip feeding the summer of 2002, alluding to the climax without ever going into detail. The effect is quite extraordinary – finally discovering what happened to Eva at the end of a summer of darkness, despair, and devastation, and immediately realising her plans for one terrifying act of revenge.

Needless to say – I absolutely love The Melting – but I would be very careful when recommending this novel.

The language is extraordinary. I’ve no doubt that the translation has been perfectly executed. The translator’s notes hint at the challenges involved in translating Spit’s mother tongue and ensuring that the minor details were not lost. Spit describes the most mundane things in the minutest of detail, focusing on features and images which most would ignore, or shy away from, and painting scenes with an uncomfortable intricacy.

The story is compelling and it’s easy to lose several hours through desperation to know what comes next. Equally, it is does make for uncomfortable reading – and there was a point where I thought I might need to put the book down and walk away. It is a work of fiction, but I feel slightly emotional writing this review, whether real or not, The Melting is explicit in its portrayal of childhood trauma and the devastating effect that this can have on adult life.

If you are intrigued by this review, then I would strongly suggest giving The Melting a try, just be prepared.

If you would like to find out more – Lize Spit will be discussing her portrayal of childhood trauma in an event as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival tonight at 6.30pm: https://bit.ly/2X2yFow

I was sent a free copy of The Melting in exchange for an honest review.

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