Book review: Strawberry Hills Forever

Strawberry Hills Forever.Strawberry Hills Forever by Vanessa Berry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve never really been someone for zines. I’ve read them on occasion, but in a lot of cases I find they’re a bit more OCD or hermetic than even I could handle. Sometimes it feels as if I’m an interloper with some titles; that I’m not the audience. Could be the case, granted. So I’m happy to note that this collection of pieces from Vanessa Berry – culled from her zines I Am A Camera and Laughter and the Sound of Teacups are welcoming while still maintaining their dedication to singularity of vision.

The book’s divided into a couple of sections: Adventures, Objects, Place and Detail. Sometimes there’s just one piece per section, sometimes more. But each one seems suffused with a feeling of loss, of sadness, or of a lack of ease. That’s not to say it’s a depressing read: it’s certainly not that. But there’s a touching kind of hypervigilance in the text: the description of a young woman who’s worried about how she appears, about second-hand shop grime, and about the way she might be perceived by someone she desperately wants to befriend.

I really enjoyed reading Berry’s pieces here, largely because there was a spark of familiarity in the work. I’ve spent a lot of time in Turramurra, a suburb singled out for special attention in one piece, as well as the cheap-student haunts that are op-shops. She writes well about obsession, about the pull of things that once were owned by other people, about the magnetism of place. And importantly, there’s a sense that you’re hearing an unmediated voice: that narration inside your head that you think’s a bit silly? It’s here, on the page.

If there’s a failing in the book, it’s that the latter part – the complete entries from Laughter and the Sound of Teacups – seem weaker than other writings. These final two chapters are whole-day descriptions, where Berry relates a complete day’s worth of happenings in a single braindump, and as such have a lot of the feeling of automatic writing. They’re more flowing, but less structured than the other pieces in the collection, which bear the marks of more considered editing. I can understand this: it reads as the sort of piece that comes out fully formed, straight into the text. But for me, the removal of the editorial prowess shown elsewhere makes them feel slightly reduced in comparison to other pieces.

Still, this isn’t a big complaint. It didn’t make me stop reading, and I enjoyed the take on the two days; certainly times when the author’s unease in herself seems more apparent. I’ll be interested to see what Berry’s new work, Mirror Sydney is like. Given that the strongest parts of this book were psychogeographical in tone, I reckon it’ll be a cracker.

(You can buy a copy of the book here, and you probably should. )

My Goodreads profile is here.

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