Laura McPhee-Browne’s second novel, Little Plum, beautifully captures the tumultuous ambiguity of impending parenthood with dream diaries, food babies and characters bearing gemstone names. Heavy with connection, this novel follows the weeks preceding an unplanned conception to the tumultuous time after birth. The overwhelming realities of metamorphic change and life-shattering love are explored via the calm but fragile reality of one woman’s experience.
Coral is a 29-year-old journalist with a fraught maternal relationship. Morning sickness and anxiety accompany her hopes and fears, as she obsessively tracks the growth of her unborn baby using a varied diet of food analogies. She weaves in and out of dreams, both literal and figurative, while dealing with life, death, grief, love, change and constancy.
Set mostly in Melbourne and partially in Poland, this book has a rare physicality to it that one can’t help but inhabit, as if one’s own belly is rounding in sympathy, nose twitching in recognition of a half-remembered scent. The language is deeply sensory – often sweet – and undeniably aromatic. Earthy like stones and juicy as fruit, McPhee-Browne’s hypnotic prose is visceral, intimate and delicious.
Change radiates from the inside out, colouring Coral’s external world, and altering the borders of its changeable shapes. Particular attention is paid to those precious but terrifying days in which sleep deprivation, intrusive thoughts and uncertainty are most likely to run rampant. The author includes details most people abstain from admitting about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, highlighting the loneliness of experiencing something common, but concealed nonetheless, through a medium of raw honesty.
Mental health issues and the importance of support systems are thematically crucial without overshadowing the narrative. Hope exists amid anxiety; the author’s background as a therapeutic practitioner strengthens the backbone and softens the skin of this thoughtfully fleshed-out story.
Little Plum is a tasty literary treat the heart of which lurks in forgotten corners to ponder what we should – and shouldn’t – sacrifice. It will resonate deeply with mothers, daughters and those who perceive what others don’t.
Little Plum by Laura McPhee-Browne
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication date: 7 February 2023