The Impossible Resurrection of Grief by Octavia Cade
“Can you watch something die and let it die?” The global mismanagement of the Covid pandemic, and consequential human deaths. The plundering of the environment, and consequential deaths of humans, non-human and ecosystems. The decades of spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing global warming and multiple natural disasters, causing deaths of humans, non-humans, communities, and environments. I often imagine the desperate frustration of those scientists, those ignored Cassandras with libraries full of prophesies, who must watch helplessly as their worst predictions unfold. This desperation is what The Impossible Resurrection of Grief is about.
Ruby is a scientist, enamoured of her research subjects – jellyfish. She is still focused, as jellyfish are “one of the few creatures who flourish in a warmer ocean”. Her friend Marjorie is not so fortunate - her passion is the Great Barrier Reef and all who live there. She has watched the Reef and its inhabitants die, seen it become home only to “hungry, migrating starfish”. As a consequence, Marjorie has been infected by the epidemic that is sweeping the world; an epidemic of despair called Grief. Grief has no cure, cases always end in death, by suicide. Ruby tries to save her friend, who has become recreated as ‘Sea Witch’; Ruby supplies her with the lethal plastic she uses in delicate creations. But Ruby doesn’t have any answer to Sea Witch’s question: “Can you bring it back?”
George, Ruby’s husband, is worried about Ruby’s efforts to help Marjorie, he is suspicious of her. He is an artist; Ruby is a scientist. He is Indigenous, a Māori from Aotearoa; she the descendent of the colonisers of Australia. They still love each other but are in the throws of a divorce – The Impossible Resurrection of Grief is full of metaphors. Ruby travels to Tasmania, a place of “genocide and absence”, where for those who are gone, Grief will never come. She is following what she believes are Marjorie’s wishes. She finds an elderly woman who is infected with Grief, but who has acted in her despair. She has recreated the wonderful creature that was the thylacine – but there is something decidedly sinister about her recreations.
“Get in the fucking car, Ruby!” George arrives to take Ruby away. They travel to Aotearoa, in response to an invitation to an art reveal, that George suspects is more of an invitation to Ruby than to him. After initially being charmed by another recreation, they again discover a dark side to events. Some of those living with “Grief – the inability to balance was left with what was left behind”, are scientists, those who enabled global destruction. And they appear to be collaborating. They are skilful, they can create illusions, miracles - “death, even extinction, was both too much and not enough”.
The Impossible Resurrection of Grief is full of tension, full of dread. Ruby and George can’t report their suspicions, they would just be considered the ramblings of those infected with Grief. The reader immediately understands the inequalities of power, the small inequalities, and the large - the disproportionate impact of the results of Western greed and complacency on Indigenous populations. Environmental disasters have been allowed to worsen, as initially they didn’t sufficiently impact the privileged. That’s when Grief became an epidemic - prior to that people were affected by Grief, but no-one who could act paid any attention. Another strand of the story comes from Andersen and Grimm. Those deluded by their own false beauty look at the world as into a mirror, not seeing the remains of their victims behind it, or the morals of the pretty stories they enjoy, but only the self-made illusion.
This small novel is disturbing and huge in its resonance, “When we saw how good we were at killing, when we made it part of us. Did you think it would just go away?”. We fear the imminent dangers from science trying to balance the chaos that science has enabled. Ruby is sympathetic to the suffering of other beings and their environments, but in an intellectual way – her jellyfish are flourishing. But … towards the end even she begins to realise there is yet another human-wrought disaster looming. An exquisite book, read it!