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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

'Love, Death & Other Scenes' by Nova Weetman


From the BLURB: 

Nova Weetman’s unforgettable memoir reflects on experiences of love and loss from throughout her life, including: losing her beloved partner, playwright Aidan Fennessy, during the 2020 Covid lockdown; the death of her mother ten years earlier; her daughter turning eighteen and finishing school; and her own physical ageing. Using these events as a lens, Nova considers how various kinds of losses – and the complicated love they represent – change us and can become the catalysts for letting go.

This is a moving, honest account of farewelling a partner of twenty-five years, parenting teenagers through grief, buying property for the first time at the age of fifty, watching Aidan live on through his plays, and learning to appreciate spending hours alone with only the household cat for company. Warm and wise – and often joyful – Love, Death & Other Scenes ultimately focuses on the living we do after losses and what we learn from them.

At one point while reading Nova Weetman's memoir, I said out loud to the empty room; "Geez, you're good Nova."

Such was the power and force of certain sentences, ideas, inflections and offerings throughout. "As writers, we are stealers of other peoples memories, bowerbirds of story," she writes at one point - and then puts that ability to collect on full display throughout as she recounts the life she built with her partner, playwright Aidan Fennessy, who battled and then died from prostate cancer in 2020 during Melbourne's numerous lockdowns and waves of Covid.

I know Nova as a colleague, a fellow middle-grade author and someone I greatly admire, and whose books I truly - hand on heart - believe helped me in tapping into my own voice for this age group. I think it's a little odd that I feel like I know-her, *know* her now after reading 'Love, Death & Other Scenes,' though. And especially because I have a tangential understanding of the loss she and her two children experienced in 2020. My uncle died after his third bout of cancer - having beat the other two, it was pancreatic in the end, third time unlucky - and unlike Nova's partner who had the option but didn't use it; my uncle chose Voluntary Assisted Dying and went out on his own terms, at home, December 2020. We were all there. I'm both surprised and not at all by how much reading Nova's perspective of a death like that during Covid - which I watched my aunt and cousin go through, one of the helpers minding children and looking for ways to ease their pain - I needed to reexamine and feel.

But I'm also surprised at how beautifully romantic this book was too, as Nova writes about how she and Aidan first met - how she fell first, and pursued ... how so much of their relationship felt like it needed balancing, especially in their creative exchange; ‘He introduced me to albums I’d never heard, to singers dead before my time, and the way that songs stain your memories giving them meaning they don’t have in silence.'

In this too, I feel weirdly intimate to the story because Nova writes about Aidan's final play he ever wrote - 'The Heartbreak Choir' - finally being staged, but only after his death. His final work he never got to see fully-realised. It's because I know Nova and am a fan of hers, that I was aware through social media what she was going through - and when tickets became available for 'The Heartbreak Choir' debut performance in Melbourne, I snapped them up for both myself, my mum, and my aunt - also knowing that she in particular may find some comfort in both the story, and its background. And she did - we all did. I saw 'The Heartbreak Choir' in May 2022 and loved it! A play my Aunt still talks about, has triggered her love of theatre to the point that she and my mum will now spontaneously ask me to check out what's on and what's coming up, book something for us all.

'Love, Death & Other Scenes' feels like another chapter to that play, in a way. How apt, that Nova muses towards the end of her memoir; ‘And it is in words that I can find him,' and it's in both her words and his that I feel something being unlocked, and another story I want to share with my family. That I want to press this book into their hands and say; 'It's us, a little bit.' We're not so alone, I think.


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