Lola – by Elizabeth Smither
This is a beautifully crafted, poetic and musical novel by one of New Zealand’s most accomplished writers. Lola Dearborn – once of Dearborn and Zander Funeral Services – reaches a kind of loose end in her life where reflective curiosity prevails. This leads to very little action plot-wise, but a lot of introspective and beautifully articulated moments.
Surrounded by death, due to the persistent family business, the theme is used as symbolism with poignant scenes set in the pet cemetery, widows in need of comfort, desperate fathers of still born babies and wilting flowers at grave sites. There’s also a possible echo of the stages of grief as the main characters reach a final sense of amicable acceptance in their relationships with each other.
The characters are single-minded in their goals. The “preposterous” Luigi follows Lola with timidity and unrequited affection while she befriends the lively Sylvester Quartet and Lola tries romantically to live in a hotel in Napier, leaving the unremitting Charles to declare his intentions from afar.
Music works as a structural and thematic device in the novel, always coming back to that which flows or lingers and only rising slowly and carefully to a crescendo when the characters’ worlds start to slide together.