Who is the real monster from Briohny Doyle’s second novel, Echolalia?


“What could make a mother do the unthinkable?” ” Echolalia asks for the back cover. In Doyle’s universe, almost everything qualifies: ecological collapse, the guilt of the colonial invasion, school bullies, distraught husbands. Yet the real horror, suggests Doyle, is our inability as individuals and societies – to accept difference. We hesitate to leave room for vulnerability, to accept those who, like Emma, ​​are “divergent, dormant,” perhaps naive or inexperienced, or simply incapable of living in ready-made social narratives. Talking Heads was diagnosed with the disease four decades ago: And you may be wondering, well, how did I get here?


In one reading, Emma is a monster, yes – she murdered her son – but she is a monster who could have otherwise committed suicide. (Freud, in Mourning and melancholy, argues that suicide is always a self-assertion of a murder intended for another.) She suffers the death in the life of knowing that she has let herself disappear into the accounts of others – the good wife, the good mother – without wondering if she really wants it.

Doyle distinguishes here the bourgeois prison of Emma and the certainties of the Cormac family. The Cormacs are the guardians of the prescribed and the ready-made; they’ve got an answer for everything, backed up by righteous stories of lineage, competitive clashes, and How to Wear a Brave Face While the World is Burning. Their name recalls the millennial survivalist stories of American author Cormac McCarthy: Damn ecological collapse, Emma, ​​your kids need a pool! Hardworking people deserve to go, they insist. The Cormacs are avatars of self-proclaimed, materialistic Australia; that part of the country that is tough, intimidating, expert in stiff upper lip brutalism. The imprint of John Howard and his second-rate offspring Scott Morrison on their lives is inescapable. It is an Australia that long ago made “bleeding heart” a scarlet letter.

Echolalia by Briohny Doyle.Credit:

Emma’s infanticide is juxtaposed with that of Diane Downs, the American mother who, in 1983, shot one of her children and attempted to murder her two others. First there was a book about Ann Rule’s real crime in 1987, then in 1989 a made-for-television biopic based on the events, Small sacrifices, with Downs played by Farrah Fawcett (Downs’ youngest child was renamed “Robbie” for the film). His slogan : What prompted a mother to slaughter her helpless children?

Echolalia the title itself comes from a condition that Emma’s middle child Arthur experiences, in which a person repeats what he hears; in adults, it is sometimes associated with autism. But echolalia, as a form of difference, is what generally concerns Doyle’s writing: the atypical, the ignored, the marginalized. Those who are not strong, or successful, or stoic. Those who are looking for softness rather than harshness.

In Doyle’s early days, The island will sink, our pop cultural infatuation with apocalypse fantasies substituted for real material efforts to avert disaster. Here, the “collective work” of how societies and individuals learn to bury “unwanted things” produces a similar effect. Echolalia prescribed notions of how to live – and those who use these notions as a club with which to intimidate others – are the ultimate psychopathic killer. In the book’s fictional regional setting, Shorehaven and its neighboring town, refugees are invisible, colonial guilt ethereal but still present, and Emma’s high school a slow torture of “teenage domination.” Emma’s mistake is her failure to consciously choose the life she wants. Instead, she thoughtlessly slips into the one provided by her in-laws. His world is guarded by the fear of the aberrance of the Cormac family, their willingness to watch the world burn down if that means real estate prices continue to improve. There are no rabbits on the stove here. There is no need: the calls come from inside the house.


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