Book review: Nameless, Amanda Creely

War and its voiceless victims are the harrowing topics of this novel.
Nameless. On the left is a head and shoulders author shot of a middle aged Caucasian woman with a white top under a pinafore type dress. She has shoulder length greying hair cut in a bob with a fringe. On the right is a book cover with a black linocut image of a side on woman against a green backdrop.

‘War takes our names and turns us into numbers. The number displaced. The number imprisoned. The number dead.’  

Shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award, Amanda Creely’s allegorical novel Nameless is a profound exploration of the impact of war, as it acknowledges and remembers the nameless victims. Readers are thrust into a world with an anonymous setting, guided by characters with nondescript names. References to ‘our Country’, ‘Invader’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Teacher’ etc evoke a sense of universality, reminding us that the events of the book do not describe any one war, but all war.

This intentionally nonspecific nature allows readers to project their own experiences and emotions into the narrative. Through the lens of a grieving mother, the novel explores the breadth of suffering and the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in the face of unimaginable violence.  

The opening pages dive headfirst into the action; the intense descriptions of violence and death feel a little too close to home in today’s sociopolitical climate. The use of vivid imagery immerses the reader into the macabre reality of conflict. While the story is fictionalised, Creely has drawn upon actual events to manufacture terrifying and almost sickening tales. The fact that war never changes and we never learn is an indictment on our civilisation.  

It is important to note that there is no trigger warning and readers should be aware of the book’s graphic content. There are particularly explicit scenes describing physical and sexual violence that should be approached with caution.  

Aside from its ambiguity, what sets Nameless apart is its unconventional protagonist. Unlike typical heroines who lead revolutions, the grieving mother at the story’s centre represents the countless real life experiences of war, of those whose stories often go untold. Mother or Teller (as in Storyteller) is a woman plagued by loss, trying to endure in the aftermath of the murder of her husband and three of her four children. Her search for refuge, safety and survival is all she has to keep her going.  

At times the intense descriptions of grief become repetitive and emotionally exhausting. Occasionally finishing a chapter will leave a sour taste in the mouth; however, this is a poignant reminder of the endless nature of grief and the toll that it takes on the human  psyche.  

Despite the heaviness of its subject matter, Nameless offers moments of hope and resilience, with the novel’s strangely optimistic ending speaking to the enduring power of love. At its core, the book explores a parent’s love for her only surviving daughter. It’s a story that’s unpleasant, but one that’s also about courage, strength and the unbreakable bond between parent and child. Nameless showcases the profound depths of maternal devotion even in the face of adversity.

Read: Book review: Heartsease, Kate Kruimink

Creely’s novel is haunting and powerful, serving as a reminder that behind every statistic lies an individual with a unique story. The relevance of such a novel underscores the need for empathy, compassion and a concerted effort to prevent war at all costs. In a world where headlines often reduce human lives to mere numbers, Nameless compels us to see beyond the statistics and recognise the individual stories of pain, resilience and, ultimately, hope.  

Nameless, Amanda Creely
Publisher: UWA Publishing
ISBN: 9781760802738
Format: Paperback
Pages: 300pp
Release date: 1 April 2024
RRP: $34.99

Hayley Thomas is an Adelaide born performing artist, arts writer and talent relations manager. She holds a Bachelor of Music Theatre from the University of Adelaide and a Graduate Certificate in Arts (Screen Studies) from the University of Melbourne. She has a love for research-based film analysis, exploring the nuances of the human psyche. Her other interests include running, Pilates, dogs and pasta. Hayley is based in Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. Instagram: @hayleyerynn