Book Review: The Spill by Imbi Neeme

The Spill…

About the Book:

Winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize

In 1982, a car overturns on a remote West Australian road. Nobody is hurt, but the impact is felt for decades.

Nicole and Samantha Cooper both remember the summer day when their mother, Tina, lost control of their car – but not in quite the same way. It is only after Tina’s death, almost four decades later, that the sisters are forced to reckon with the repercussions of the crash. Nicole, after years of aimless drifting, has finally found love, and yet can’t quite commit. And Samantha is hiding something that might just tear apart the life she’s worked so hard to build for herself.

The Spill explores the cycles of love, loss and regret that can follow a family through the years – moments of joy, things left unsaid, and things misremembered. Above all, it is a deeply moving portrait of two sisters falling apart and finding a way to fit back together.

My Thoughts:

The Spill is the winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize and it is a worthy recipient. A story of two sisters; on the surface, it may not seem all that spectacular. But the characterisation is so finely tuned, not just with Samantha and Nicole, but with all of the characters, even those that only pop up in memories. Where this novel really shines though is in the structure. Set in the present day, the perspective is shared between Samantha and Nicole, but as this is largely a novel about memory, the pieces of the past are scattered throughout. At first, the flashbacks seem random; there is no chronological order to them and sometimes it is Nicole’s flashback, while at others it is Samantha’s. However, all of these memory pieces are not at all as random as they first appear and as the novel moves towards its conclusion, we see it all fall into place, perspectives brought forward where we had previously only seen one sister’s view of that particular incident or occasion.

‘In that moment, everything in that brightly lit corridor slid away. Memories, half-forgotten, half-repressed, began to rise to the surface of my mind, like something finally coming to the boil.’

I found the memory aspect of this novel particularly fascinating. Memory itself is so interesting and I listened a little while back to a podcast on childhood memories and how they are so unreliable on account of the way in which our long and short term memory works. From a personal aspect, this idea of two sisters having a shared childhood but differing memories of it is something I can personally attest to. There has been many times over the years where my sister and I have been talking and it’s become clear that we remember certain things differently. I think this happens in many cases though, not just when there has been trauma or uncertainty attached to your childhood. Even in the present day, my memory of things quite often differs from that of my husband!

The fact that I grew up with an alcoholic mother is not something I keep a secret, although it’s also not something I go on about a lot either. It just is what it is. But of course, it means that this novel really did lie close to the bone for me, particularly as I also have just one sister, so there were many times over where I almost felt a sense of de-ja-vu about the story and the characters. What I can say though about this novel is that Imbi Neeme has absolutely nailed what it’s like to be a person who has grown up with an alcoholic parent. I could relate to both Nicole and Samantha intimately, so while there were things about them, particularly Samantha, that I didn’t necessarily like, I understood them, and more precisely, I recognised them. I feel that Imbi Neeme has really dug down deep into the tragedy of alcoholism and the far reaching inter-generational effects this disease has on a family. It’s a complex issue, easily judged by outsiders who are fortunate enough to have never had to deal with it. But the weight and burden of it is immense, and I honestly can’t articulate how much I appreciate this novel and the manner in which it wears its topic.


Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of The Spill for review.

About the Author:

Imbi Neeme is a recovering blogger, impending novelist and compulsive short story writer.
Her manuscript The Spill was awarded the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize.
She was also the recipient of the 2019 Henry Handel Richardson Fellowship at Varuna for excellence in Short Story Writing. Her short fiction has won prizes in the 2019 Newcastle Short Story Awards, the 2018 Boroondara Literary Awards, and has been shortlisted for the 2018 Peter Carey Short Story Award.
Her first manuscript, The Hidden Drawer, made the judges’ commended list in the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Awards and was selected for the 2015 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program.
She blogged for many years at Not Drowning, Mothering, which won the 2010 Bloggies award for best Australian/New Zealand Weblog.
She lives in Melbourne with her partner, kids and largely indifferent pets.

The Spill
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released 2nd June 2020

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Spill by Imbi Neeme

  1. When I was about ten or twelve, we lived next door to an alcoholic mother. The little kids (the older boy would have been about five or six) would sometimes come round about dinner time to borrow something, the way that people used to pop by to borrow a cup of sugar if they’d run out. But they would ‘borrow’ a slice of bread.
    It took a little while for my parents to work out what was going on, and then the kids would go home with more than a slice of bread. The lady across the road who was with the Salvos helped as well, but before long they did a bunk, either because someone had notified welfare or the rent was due. I still wonder what became of those kids. That boy had developed such amazing coping skills at such a young age, and was looking after his little brother too…
    I hope they were able to make a good life for themselves, the way you have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is sad. We were fortunate in that while we were little, we lived next door to our grandparents, so floating between houses was easy. That changed when I turned 10 though and we moved to Queensland. You become very resourceful and quite adept at dodging questions and forging notes. Both my sister and I have done well but neither of us are without residual issues.

      Liked by 1 person

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