Juno & Hannah by Beryl Fletcher, Spinifex Press, ISBN 9781742198750
Juno & Hannah is the new novel from acclaimed New Zealand author Beryl Fletcher. It’s officially called a “novella” but to be honest I think it’s of a respectable enough length to qualify as a novel.
Set in post-WW1, it certainly has more than a flavour of Kiwi gothic to it. Fletcher wastes no time getting into the story, with our protagonists,Juno and Hannah, propelled throw events right from the first page. The book starts with Hannah saving the life of a man in a river, and we quickly realise three pertinent facts: a) the two girls live in a religious colony, b) are sisters and, c) Juno is different, possibly autistic. Hannah has learnt to calm and reason with Juno, and in turn Juno trusts Hannah over anyone.
But saving a man’s life changes everything for these sisters, with Hannah accused of witchcraft and isolated for a month. Before the isolation ends Hannah realises she has to leave and she must take Juno with her. This turns out to be just the beginning of a journey that takes in their past and parentage, as well as bushcraft, religion, exploitation, abuse, eugenics and crime.
Fletcher is always a fantastic writer and I did enjoy Juno & Hannah. I did have trouble connecting with the story but I often find that with Fletcher’s writing – people aren’t always honest and Fletcher makes the reader decide for themselves. This is a challenge though, not a criticism.
The story moves along at a fast pace and as quickly as we are dropped into this story, we are dropped out. Perhaps that’s another tick in the novella column. The characters are memorable, especially Hannah, the sister who holds it all together and in many ways mirrors our own confusion at a world we aren’t familiar with and don’t really understand.
Juno & Hannah is published by Spinifex Press – an independent and highly productive Australian feminist publishing company. You might not know them well, but I highly recommend taking a look at their current and back catalogue.