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Book review: Desire: A Reckoning, Jessie Cole

A memoir written in real-time with echoes of past-on-present.

Jessie Cole’s fourth book – and second memoir – is a montage of moments exploring trauma, physicality, and female desire in the context of contemporary Australian life. Written in skilful fragmentary narrative, this sensory experience of self-and-world is tender, vulnerable, brave and raw. 

Jessie Cole lives deep in the forest where the transformative power of destruction is ever present. She is approaching 40, and her sons are almost grown. Traumatic instances of loss, childbirth, and unrequited love have left her soul-bruised and skin-hungry, with emotional aftershocks constructing a functional dichotomy of pain versus desire. Stress diminishes Cole’s autonomy, and her anxiety draws all the lines. 

A moment of mutual magnetism with an older man precipitates a battle between Cole’s rationality and the unstemmable tide of emotion that begs to differ with her assumptions. The older man, kind but detached, causes her to question her intense sensitivity to perceived red flags. Settling for sex when what she craves is affection, Cole treads water in a limbo of uncertainty, clutching at the framework of attachment theory for a semblance of emotional stability. 

A deluge destroys all tangible evidence of her family’s most precious memories, disintegrating Cole’s ability to live alongside the past. Caught between drowning and burning, her disappointments lead to literal numbness. In between these extremes, a lover’s passive avoidance has the power to cut ever deeper. Embodied hypervigilance accompanies an array of disasters, both natural and personal, as Cole negotiates the boundaries between herself and the rest of the world. 

Read: Book review: The Wrong Woman, J.P. Pomare

Desire: A Reckoning is deep life-poetry, thrumming with vitality and unpretentious symbolism. Masterfully patchworked moments pull the reader’s consciousness through a world of poignant aching and vanishing safety nets in this relevant reflection on self-embodiment. This book will appeal to lovers who have suffered through the exquisite terror of wanting, and will resonate with anyone who has ever sidestepped a rug to avoid having it ripped out from under them.

Desire: A Reckoning by Jessie Cole
Publisher: Text Publishing 
ISBN: 9781922458667

Format: Paperback
Pages: 272pp
Release Date: 2 August 2022
RRP: $32.99

Nanci Nott is an Australian writer who believes in dismantling traditional pedagogy in parenting and education, for the purpose of raising freethinking, compassionate, world-changers.