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Love, Loss and Family: Jessie Cave’s ‘Sunset’ explores the many facets of grief

Jessie Cave’s debut novel Sunset should immediately be added to your must-read list.

If you’re grieving, it’s a must. If you have a tight-knit or disjointed family, it’s a must. If you’ve been in love, it’s a must. I

You may recognise Cave’s name since she starred in the Harry Potter films as Lavender Brown, but away from celluloid and on paper, Cave presents herself as nothing short of a seasoned author.

The main character, Ruth, while selfish and flawed, is also entertaining and endearing. She is written a little outlandishly on occasion, which does inject necessary humour into what at times comes across as a very sad story.

I was constantly rooting for Ruth to step out of her sister’s shadow, to transform and learn from her overwhelming grief. Each time she took a stumbled step backward – either searching for an easy hook-up, or consuming far too much junk food – it was difficult to read; to see her disrespect herself.

The line-by-line speech, lacking in quotation marks, was jarring at first, though I learnt to appreciate how this succinct and punchy style choice let Ruth’s surrounding narration shine.

The combination of memories from Ruth’s past (mostly describing her experiences with her sister Hannah) and her present struggles add so much to the perception of her character. It’s difficult for the reader not to empathise with her.

In Hannah’s absence each family member manages to better themself, even if it is incremental and appears tediously. It’s satisfying to see these slow changes, be it Ruth’s mother relinquishing some of her pride, or her father’s accomplishments after many, many years of trying. Even Hannah isn’t as perfect as Ruth initially makes her out to be; cursing at joggers and clinging desperately on to an ex-boyfriend. 

I couldn’t wait to open the book up again and continue following Ruth on her journey. I stuffed it in my tote bag and eagerly devoured it in multiple waiting rooms. I was excited for the next five, ten empty minutes, so I could fill it with Ruth’s world.

Once home again, I snuggled into bed – a sleeping cat by my side – and read chapter after chapter until the end.

Sunset sees love and loss written about beautifully. And the final heartbreaking punch is getting to the Acknowledgements section and realising the love and loss was profoundly real: Cave had tragically lost her brother Benjamin Haddon-Cave to a train accident in 2018. Don’t skip Ben’s poem at the very end; it gives Cave’s words an even greater realness.

I do not doubt Cave gave an immense amount of herself to this book, and it’s a pleasure to have read it.

Tessa Covich

‘Sunset’ is out through Allen & Unwin, RRP $39.99.

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