Musing: Nest / Inga Simpson

This is less a review than a musing on Nest (by Inga Simpson, originally pub’d 2014 – yes, I’m always late to the show). Listening to the audiobook in January, I realised how fascinating it is to hear the author of a book narrate their own work. Authors understand their work like no other person can, including all the nuances of language and characters they’ve crafted.

I re-read Nest over the weekend, and was struck by the way my initial reading felt somehow lacking, as though I’d missed something. At the time I’d ascribed it to what I saw as the surplus secondary plot of the story: the tragic disappearance of a young girl. It felt at odds with the slow, considerate pace of the rest of the book. However, in subsequent reading, I realised this is the truth of disappearance. At distance, there is only waiting. Life continues while the unspeakable takes place.

The crux of Nest remains Jen, an artist and tutor who has retreated to rural surrounds. Jen relates to the birdlife on her property in a relationship so symbiotic it resembles kinship. Her interaction with human society is largely tended through a touching friendship with a young boy who comes to her for art lessons.

Both readings, I was stunned by the description of setting. In striking micro focus, Inga feels the pulse of Jen’s environment. I was reminded of botanical studies I’d done in Visual Arts at uni, where the emphasis was on a ‘felt’ rather than scientific representation of a natural subject. Nest is the story of an artist on a journey that will not end: a journey to capture the essence of nature – not in a forceful, seized manner. When Jen ultimately constructs her own nest, symbolically and physically, she transcends the human-focused approach to art practice and becomes a creature in a landscape, as much as the birds she studies.

“It was the birds who saved her. They always did.”

I could relate so much to Jen’s artistic journey, particularly in her concrete experiences in art making. Jen creates art because she can exist in no other way. While I have shied away from painting in recent years, perhaps from fear of making mistakes as much as anything else, I suspect Jen would humbly deny my extolling of her practice as an act of bravery.

I can’t wait to get started on Inga’s eco-memoir Understory: A Life With Trees (out June 2017).

P.S. Forgive my rambling in the above post as I contend with a temperature and a rather shitty cold.

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