Skilfully constructed, deeply affecting and all the more enjoyable for its measure of sadness and regret, THE SPILL marks a dazzling debut for author, Imbi Neeme.
Winner of the Penguin Literary Prize, THE SPILL uses a non-linear, multi-perspective narrative structure to highlight the gaps between memories and reality, moments and fragments, remembered or reconstructed.
The perspectives mainly come from two sisters, Nicole and Samantha, who both bore witness to their mother having “a spill” – crashing the family car – some forty years ago.
Their recollections of the spill and the events leading up to it vary and underlie their subsequent relationship and their individual relationships with their mother, father, and not so immediate family through childhood and into their adult lives.
Told in twenty-two pieces of third person narrative, with interweaving first person accounts by the siblings, THE SPILL pieces together the puzzle of the sisters’ journey from seemingly happy family suburban bliss to antagonism and estrangement with each piece spilling secrets, misapprehensions, revelations and surprises across every page. It is the collection of these small pieces that provide the bigger picture.
The fickle finger of memory plays into the hand of fiction figuratively and metaphorically in Neeme’s assured hands. The title is not only about an incident, but of its causation and its ramifications.
The focal point of the book, “the spill” of forty years ago, is a pivot of the siblings strained relationship, their estrangement, and their divided allegiances to their parents, a sort of ground point zero of the disintegration of sisterly ties.
Alcoholic mum, Tina, and philandering father, Craig, split after the spill, creating separate camps for Nicole and Samantha, former allies becoming antagonists. Words said and those left unspoken have created a schism within the siblings. As is so often in real life, the rift only starts reparation after someone dies, when the truth finally spills, and new realisations take root.
It is through her rich characters, specifically the sisters, that Neeme explores the notion that events are experienced in various ways with memories formed in nuance rather than cold, hard, immutable fact.
Fragments forgotten can make figments remembered that sometimes fester and fuse into a reality that’s not fake, exactly, not an imperception, even, but an imperfect observation, further fueled by third party omissions. The missing pieces of the big picture.
Told with the sympathy and skill of a natural storyteller, THE SPILL seeps below the surface of fractured families to fathom deep seated resentments but the book has the heart to search for healing and the making of amends.
Be prepared to have a spill.
THE SPILL by Imbi Neeme is published by Penguin Viking.