The Hum of Concrete by Anna Solding. MidnightSun Publishing. 2012
There should be a rule against acknowledgements at the end of a novel. How can readers be expected not to keep on reading? As I blithely turned the pages at the end of Anna Solding’s excellent novel The Hum of Concrete I was confronted with some details about its inner workings that I would rather not have known. It was similar to watching a woman being sawn in half and then being taken back stage to be shown how the woman contorts herself into small boxes while the saw cuts through only a hair’s breadth away from her toes.
Spoiler alert, spoiler alert …. We’re told in the acknowledgements how some of the stories which make up this novel existed independently and then how good friends, and there seems an army of them, helped Solding in those last intense months when she ‘frantically tied all the strings together’. To her credit Solding does tie those strings together beautifully; the ending of The Hum of Concrete is as satisfying as the ending of any good novel and her friends deserve their acknowledgements.
There are many novels which are a combination of short stories, deftly woven together, think Julian Barnes, David Mitchell or Gail Jones but perhaps there could be a new name for this kind of novel? A decameron novel perhaps?
The Hum of Concrete is called ‘a novel constellation’ which is as good a name as any. Is this a confession that the author does not see this as a novel at all but rather a collection of short stories, which like a group of stars, will eventually, form a recognizable pattern. This is not a criticism of the Solding’s work just a perspective of a reader who likes to know what kind of book she’s buying or borrowing before she commits.
Interspersed amongst Solding’s intriguing stories of five main characters are wonderful evocations of what life is like in the Swedish city of Malmo. We’re given vivid descriptions of Malmo in the quiet of winter, lively markets in summer, picnics in parks and feeding the ducks all of which work to give greater depth to her stories. Sometimes these places seem incongruous with her characters’ lives although perhaps that is what Solding is trying to tell us; that lives can get too caught up with people and rather we should spend more time enjoying the beauty of what is around us, the seasons, ripening fruit and even hissing geese.
This wariness of people is a theme also played out in Solding’s clear and deep appreciation of children. All five women are mothers and whilst their children have the capacity to bring worry and fear into mothers’ lives they also have a capacity to bring love and to help adults make sense of the world around them. The trajectory of these women’s lives seems solely propelled by their relationship with their children. Perhaps on a second reading partners will appear more centre stage or better still this will happen in Solding’s next novel; her ability to deal with the complexities of relationships would work well on a bigger canvas.
A secondary theme, which reinforces her main message, is the idea of gender. Solding looks at people’s ability to cope with what is different, the failures and successes of acceptance. This aspect of the novel is thought-provoking and is too large an issue to be left on the periphery. These are small criticisms of what fundamentally is a very good ….. decameron novel/novel constellation.
MidnightSun is committed to an honourable cause; in these troubled times they are prepared to take risks but, I would suggest, their publication of Anna Solding’s The Hum of Concrete was never a risk but rather a guaranteed success.
Kate Pardey is a Sydney based fiction critic.
The Hum of Concrete is available from MidnightSun Publishing: http://midnightsunpublishing.com/books/the-hum-of-concrete/