Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I have to say that one of my favorite aspects of reviewing for Necessary Fiction is getting to be one of the first people to write about a piece of début fiction, especially a work that comes from an independent press. I know that many of these novels and story collections – and there are so many published each year – will never really get talked about as much as they should. If we want to think of literature as an ocean, then the big publishing houses are like continents and the smaller, independent presses more like islands of all shapes and sizes. All of us readers are just plying around in our boats, looking for a place to moor up for a night, a few days, a lifetime.

One of the little islands out there in that vast ocean of literature is a small press called Engine Books. In March they are publishing a short novel called Echolocation by a woman named Myfanwy Collins. I had the pleasure of reading this book a few weeks ago and reviewed it this week at Necessary Fiction.

Here are the first three paragraphs from my review:

Animals like bats and dolphins echolocate because it is an effective tool for navigation in a low-visibility environment, in darkness or troubled water, for example. In the simplest terms, to echolocate is to shout two simple questions, “Where are you? Where am I?” and then wait for an answer. The answer comes as an altered repetition of the original question. So echolocation can be understood in terms of intensities and transformations of sound. But it is also a process that cannot achieve its completion alone. Echolocation implies a relationship between two objects. It is about wanting to know where things are in relationship to the self. Used as a metaphor, as Myfanwy Collins has cleverly done by choosing this word as the title of her novel, echolocation conjures up an image: a shouting out into the darkness, a careful listening for the transformed return of that first offered sound. This idea contains both action and stillness, both hope and potential failure.

There are three women in Echolocation, women who have found themselves living in a kind of darkness. First is Geneva, who has returned to care for the foster mother who raised her. Geneva’s darkness has taken her by surprise, the result of a series of traumas, of physical and emotional separations. She eventually invites Cheri, her pseudo-sister, to help her, and when their Auntie Marie passes, to share what remains of their childhood home. Cheri’s darkness is of a more psychic variety, self-imposed, self-defeating. Finally, Cheri’s mother, Renee, is heading toward these two after years of absence, carrying the weight of her past as well as a new burden.

The book moves forward as these three women attempt to re-situate themselves, both geographically, in the sense of their return to an earlier home, but also psychologically. The “Where am I? Where are you?” is also a “Who am I? Who are you?” In this sense, Geneva, Cheri and Renee are engaging in a kind of spiritual echolocation—with respect to each other as well as the obstacles in their path.

Read the full review here.

My review makes it clear that I loved this book. It was beautifully written and the story is unique. It was also a book that asked me to think about the nature of violence and how a person can come to believe in a “rational violence.” I’m intrigued by that – it’s a thought that makes me uncomfortable, and yet it seems very human at the same time.





6 Responses to “Myfanwy Collins – Echolocation”

  1. litlove

    It is a very good thing you do, to bring some publicity to these small islands in the vast sea of books! This sounds intriguing and I do agree that being the first to write about a novel is a very cool accomplishment.

  2. myfanwycollins

    Still riding high on your beautiful and insightful review, Michelle! Thank you for reading and appreciating my book. I could not be more grateful.

  3. Helen

    I’ve just read the whole review. Really Michelle, you are such a brilliant and insightful reviewer! I had never heard of either the publisher or the writer before, but I am off to find out more about both now – thank you.

  4. Dead Writer’s Book Group « pieces

    […] Myfanwy Collins (of Echolocation, I book I loved and wrote about at Necessary Fiction but also here) and Anne Korkeakivi (of An Unexpected Guest – this book is just out and I am reading right now […]

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