In The Quiet by debut author Eliza Henry-Jones tells the story of Cate, a mother of three and wife to a loving husband, who has died. And yet, she lingers on, watching her young children and her husband as they come to terms with their life without her on their rural horse property. Similar to The Lovely Bones, or the peaceful, quiet world of Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere, Jones allows her readers a fly-on-the-wall feeling as they witness what Cate is witnessing at the exact same moment as she. You will feel her joy and her pain in tandem, but more than that you–as a part of this ephemeral world–will understand it.
Grab tissues and start reading here.
In The Quiet is your debut novel. Can you talk a little bit about where the inspiration for the novel came from and how long you had been at work on it?
I was very lucky with In the Quiet in a number of ways. I started writing it without planning to – I was on my last day of a writer in residence position on the other side of Australia and I’d finished the manuscript I’d been granted the residency to work on. And I had this vivid image of a little girl sitting on a verandah, being showered in jacaranda flowers. I started typing in Cate’s voice without really thinking about it – Cate is dead and Cate is this little girl’s mother. The first paragraph of the novel is pretty much word for word the first few lines I typed that day. It took me about six months to write initially, and then another year to tidy up and sign the publishing deal. Writing fiction has always been a way for me to try to understand things that are too big, too complex, to find meaning for in other ways. I’d been working for two years in a parenting program at a drug rehabilitation centre when I started writing In the Quiet. I was thinking, every day, about parenting and love and also about trauma and grief and the intersection of these things. So I think my work at the time was the underlying inspiration for this novel – and probably the reason the story felt quite fluid to write.
The novel is narrated by Cate, a mother who has passed away. What was the writing experience like, narrating from the voice of someone who cannot interact with the other characters? Were there times when you felt limited in any way and what did you do to deal with this?
I actually felt as though narrating from Cate’s perspective allowed an intimacy and warmth that would’ve otherwise been lacking. She knows these people – they’re her family. But they’ve also been altered by her death and in this way, they have grown beyond her and become strangers. I think the whole story is about the conflict between memories and holding on and the future and letting go and how healing exists in that space in between.
The novel takes place on a rural horse farm, and horses are a big part of some of the central themes in the novel, including the climax. How did your work as an equine therapist influence these scenes and can you tell us a little bit about your occupation?
Horses have always been very special to me. As a kid, I used to cry whenever I saw one – just because I found them utterly overwhelming. I just loved them. And I was lucky because my mum loved horses too and when I was twelve, she bought me one and we used to ride together. I gave up riding and sold my riding horse when I was twenty and missed the interaction profoundly. I actually started writing In the Quiet just as I got back into riding at twenty-two and was marveling over the rediscovered magic of being around horses every day.
Working as an equine assisted therapist has been a really profound experience. My work has mostly been with kids who have experienced serious trauma and have either been exposed to significant family violence or parental substance abuse. The relationships they develop with the horses are incredible and the way that you can see these relationships filter through into how they deal with the staff, the other children and their families. There’s something very special about horses and the way they interact with people, particularly people who are distressed, hurting or stricken with grief.
Memories are a big part of the novel – in more ways than one. Did you set out to write a novel about memory? Why does memory, and the loss of memory, interest you?
For eleven years I lived with my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s – I watched her weep for her mother at dusk each night and forget how to use the toilet and how to eat with a knife and fork. I was eight when I moved in with her and nineteen when she was accepted into an aged care facility. That same year, my dad developed something that was initially diagnosed as early onset dementia – he has no emotional regulation and his memory is extremely poor. Seeing your family go through something like this changes you – it’s a sort of grief while they’re still living. It makes you realize how important stories are and how altered life becomes when they disappear.
You received a three-book deal from HarperCollins Australia at the age of twenty-four. What’s next for you? (Since we cannot wait to read more!)
My second novel, Ache, is about to be published in Australia and I’m busily working away on my third one!
In the Quiet is available now in trade paperback. Order your copy here today.