The debut novel by Victoria Hannan, which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, is the remarkable Kokomo (Hachette 2020), a story written in residencies around the world from Brazil to Tasmania to Iceland to Victoria, and yet while encompassing a world view, it is a fine-tuned, intimate portrait of the minutiae of a domestic life shattered by grief.
Mina, who has escaped her family, her past and her life to live in London and create a new world and career for herself, receives a phone call from her best friend back in Melbourne that shakes her to the core: her mother, Elaine, has left the house for the first time in 12 years. Mina has so many questions, so many complicated feelings about her mother, of grief and abandonment, of anger and disappointment, and she had vowed never to return until her mother stepped outside the family home. Now it appears she has done so, and Mina immediately books a ticket home to determine the hows and whys of her mother’s behaviour.
But the answers are elusive and the situation is far from simple. Elaine refuses to talk about it – about any of it – her grief, her dozen years of isolation, her inexplicable decision to venture outside. Mina is left even angrier and more confused.
Meanwhile, she is catching up with old friends, and regretting leaving her fantastic job (or is it?) and the fledgling romance with her colleague in London. Everything is complex and upside-down. Nothing makes sense. And when Mina continues her determined search to uncover the truth, what she discovers is unlike anything she could have imagined.
This book has an inspired twist, that sees the main point of view switch from one character to another. To say too much would be a spoiler, but this shift in perspective allows the reader to see events, and characters, in a whole new light.
Funny, heartbreaking, warm, witty, passionate, full of desire and longing, Kokomo is a beautiful story about families, sorrow, grief, love, loyalty, secrets and the capacities and caprices of the human heart.