‘Jeannie wonders why people throw casserole at grief like they think the casserole will smother it. Watches plate after plate of casserole pass by her untouched. The overcooked noodles and the greyish mince and peas. The unpalatable sympathy of strangers.’
Grief, like many other emotions, has been a widely-explored topic of fiction and nonfiction. Death, on the other hand, has been primarily missing from modern literature. Death has become a taboo topic, we speak around it, but don’t speak to it. In many stories it can feel like it is simultaneously at the centre of the narrative, but also on the outskirts. It is at once, the reason or drive for the narrative, but also the thing we do not see. In Something to be Tiptoed Around, Emma Marie Jones confronts death and grief with an unflinching stare. The narrative is a confronting and human exploration of grief, loss, femininity and death.
‘In Something to be Tiptoed Around, Emma Marie Jones confronts death and grief with an unflinching stare.’
Jones creates for us (and herself) the protagonist Jeannie. ‘Let’s say Jeannie is like me, but not enough like me that, if you met her in the supermarket or down the pub, you’d think she was me. As in physically she’s similar, but not the same.’ We follow Jeannie as she grapples with the death of her sister, the autobiographical narrative that Jones has given to Jeannie to share some of the burden of grief, ‘Jeannie’s sister Harriet died when Jeannie was seventeen. She drowned in a backyard pool. This is also what happened to my sister, and I am lending that story to Jeannie for a while, mostly so that I don’t have to keep carrying it by myself.’ Jeannie gives Jones a reprieve from her story and holds space so she may explore and unravel the emotions she carries with her.
Harriet’s death and the way it shapes Jeannie’s life is always at the centre of the novella. It is ever-present, at times overbearing and at others, distanced, but never relegated to the outskirts of the text. ‘She wonders whether grief becomes a landmark in your life that you refer to like a stone on the horizon, or if it is something that diminishes, something to be tiptoed around until it goes away.’
This grief infuses the novella as it is written into the narrative’s core, ‘Sadness is a process that is written into Jeannie’s DNA, into everyone’s DNA, like laughing after cumming or salivating before throwing up.’ The story is real and human, with Jones bringing gut-wrenching authenticity to each line. I read this book while my partner was in chemotherapy and while I didn’t lose him, the concept of a before and after, a landmark moment in time was brought to the forefront of my life.
‘This grief infuses the novella as it is written into the narrative’s core.’
Something to be Tiptoed Around weaves theory, criticism, mythology, biography and narrative together to create a genre-defying novella. It is a patchwork of words, sentences and paragraphs that bind together to create a mosaic of ideas. Each chapter seamlessly links and builds from the previous one, exploring femininity and sisterhood, grief and time, death and loss. This is beautifully done and builds and complex and layered work.
The only criticism that sits with me at the conclusion of this book is that while it is amazingly clever and and well-crafted, it feels like it knows how highbrow it is. Reflecting on this book feels akin to remembering the conversation you had with that friend who uses terms to let you know how intellectual they are. That friend who is just a bit of a w***er. And while this makes sense as it originated as Jones’ thesis, it still felt slightly uncomfortable.
Unlike Pink Mountain On Locust Island or Axiomatic, Something To Be Tiptoed Around didn’t feel easily accessible and while I connected with the character, there were moments where I felt kept at a distance. That being said, some great work you have to work for. I know this book will continue to grow in depth and complexity as I age, experience more and read more widely.
‘I know this book will continue to grow in depth and complexity as I age, experience more and read more widely.’
While I think it would be interesting for a variety of people to read, I feel that writers, both fiction and nonfiction folk, would appreciate and gain most from reading this book. Looking at it not only for the plot and characters, but also for the technique and craftsmanship was a really enjoyable part of this read for me. I liked contemplating the behind-the-scenes moments of piecing this book together and analysing the structure and bones of the story. If you’re interested in experimental writing, this is definitely a book you should check out.
Title: Something To Be Tiptoed Around
Author: Emma Marie Jones
Publisher: Grattan Street Press
Extent: 104 pages
Read If You Like: Pink Mountain On Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau, Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion