Aspiring Daybook: The Diary of Elsie Winslow. Annabel Wilson (Wellington: Submarine, 2018). ISBN 978-0-9951092-3-0. RRP $25. 128 pp.
Reviewed by Gayle Brownlee
The structure and style of this novella, as a diary, is easy-going and undemanding. I would put it down for a few days and then its story would calmly lure me back again. I’d find myself nosing back into it. Amongst the entries, things stuck out, snagged, and dated. The mention of drum ’n’ bass was a reminder that this story was long past. This jolted harshly, and on reflex I almost put the book down to look over my shoulder, as if I’d been caught going through my sister’s things again.
As you’d expect from a diary, there are daily observations. These observations are filled with insightful repetition and are often hilarious, evolving from weather reports to entries that were like emotional barometers. There are quotes from other writers, doctors, and explorers, along with medical and news reports, letters, conversations, photographs, disappointments, and small personal comforts. There are stray sentences jotted on notepaper, seemingly meaningless and meandering thoughts that should’ve been erased in an edit. But then who would do that? Erase entries from their diary? In fact, Aspiring Daybook is so well crafted as a diary, that it is possibly what everyone who writes a diary is secretly aspiring to. As you leaf through the pages, you piece the story together. Sometimes it’s not obvious who an entry refers to. This could easily become gimmicky, but it feels completely uncontrived, and it is rather satisfying to piece out.
The poems are mostly short and precise. Whether highly structured or not at all, they contain solid hooks and are not sketches or drafts (is there an accompanying notebook to this diary, where the poems were born?). They often end with a punch, reminding me of a line by Charles Bukowski, ‘and most of all a good poem knows when to stop’ (“Defining the magic”).
If you don’t already read poetry, this book might just tip you over into it. If you do, you’ll find plenty to enjoy and lose yourself in. I just hope you don’t write a diary, because if you do, you’re going have to start trying a lot harder.
Gayle Brownlee is small and dark. She likes cats, bicycles, and whisky.