This book is a compendium about suicide. And that makes it hard to review. I can say that Amelia Harris and Julia West have done a good job in the editing and design of the book. Certainly the design is impressive, both in the cover and the page layout.
The Roaring Silence is a mixture of text and art, with some interviews in the first section. Then comes some poetry, followed by the art and cartoon work on higher quality paper. This is followed by a section called ‘Raw’, a title which conveys the kind of writing by the authors, and then there’s another prose section at the end.
While the reader will expect to read about some really ‘raw’ and painful experiences, these are mainly the stories of survivors. Most of them are by locals trying to exist in communities, and cope with personal issues and their role in families. There is also some writing from professional authors living overseas. This adds to the mix but I wondered whether the underlying theme, how New Zealanders deal with this issue, was somewhat diluted. But mostly I wondered whether any amount of writing could actually change – if not minds, then perhaps – perceptions. Apart from the more factual subject matter in some of the interviews, everything seems so subjective.
Due to the very personal experiences being shared it is difficult to refer to the specific pieces of writing in The Roaring Silence. Though I did find Natasha Lay’s piece very effective, ‘Death and Taxes’, which has also been performed as a play. The writing refers to the experience of a friend, named Sylvia, who begins to regain control of her own situation through her perseverance in filling out her tax return. The interaction with a phoneline staffer adds perspective, but the tale is designed to show how to de-stigmatise the conversation about suicide. As Lay writes, people usually don’t want anything to do with discussing the suicide option, which is a way of demonising it.
As the reviewer should I state a personal position as well? I’m squeamish about suicide because my cousin killed herself, and the family did get some warning about her state from a friend. Confronting the subject matter in The Roaring Silence has not really changed my mind on this, or the assumed link with a depressive illness being a cause. In this case it turned out to be a history of partner control and abuse, rather than an assessment of individual psychological illness, that was causative. I think this kind of situation has not been highlighted in the book, i.e. reactions to bad relationships.
Anyway, I was impressed with the artwork in the book, and thought there could have been more. In fact, I think it would be easier to read the book if the artwork and cartoons were interspersed with the text, rather than being in a separate section. But, overall, The Roaring Silence is a challenging experience and worthy of consideration.
Editor: Amelia Harris
Publisher: The Depot Press
ISBN: 978 0473 377458
RRP: $30.00 + post
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