Finding only anxiety and unhappiness in the city, Frankie moves to her late grandmother’s bungalow in the country. There she will find the healing powers of nature and solitude – or, at least, that’s the plan.
This is not a book about how wonderful nature is: most of the nature Frankie is interested in is dead. The chapters are arranged around the dead animals she finds and photographs, from robin and rat to hedgehog and badger. The focus instead is on the mind, as Baume traces the line from mental chatter to mental illness and back again, buttressed with frequent discussions of works of art. ‘Works about deprivation, I test myself,’ goes the refrain, and art becomes a way to structure and contextualise her experiences and emotional patterns.
It’s a refreshing take on the genre, a semi-autobiographical retreat novel about finding something to live for not in nature but in art. And there are moments of brilliance in which Baume dissects the minutiae of daily life, like cooking, and how depression and anxiety make those routines impossible. “Structure and maintenance and pattern, and broccoli, are what sanity consists of,” says Frankie.
The discussion of artworks and the roadkill photographs give the book structure – but they work hard to carry the piece. A stronger plot, or even just a little less openness from Frankie, would have given the novel more drive.