What Came Before by Anna GeorgeIn Melbourne’s inner west, David sits in his car, dictaphone in hand. He’s sick to his stomach but determined to record his version of events. His wife, Elle, hovers over her own lifeless body as it lies in the laundry of the house they shared. David thinks back on their relationship – intimate, passionate, intense – and what led to this terrible night.

From her eerie vantage point, Elle traces the sweep of their shared past too. Before David, she’s enjoyed a contented life – as a successful filmmaker, a much-loved aunt and friend. But in the course of two years, she was captivated and then undone by him. Not once in those turbulent times did she imagine that her alluring, complex husband was capable of this.

This contemporary Australian novel generated a varied discussion with our group. There was the obvious topic of domestic violence, much in the news these days. But also the writer’s style and how it worked (or didn’t work) in the telling of the story. Some found the dialogue not engaging enough, lacking emotion and in some instances relying on sensationalism, particularly concerning the sexual references.

Others found the narrative clever, as Elle hung between life and death, viewing her beaten body from outside herself. It was mentioned that George seemed to have drawn from her own life experiences to some degree, fleshing out her characters with occupations and back grounds much like her own. This is not an unusual practice for an author and is almost always picked up by our reading groups.

In short, the general opinion seems to be that this was a mediocre book which was an easy, quick read that may bring some of our readers back for another book, depending on the subject matter. However, novels dealing with such gritty, grim issues have an important part to play in today’s society, as they create a conversation about topics that at one time were taboo and vastly ignored. If this novel (and others like it) helps anyone to even think about seeking support, it will be worth more than any national prize winner!

Saying ‘No’ to domestic violence is a strong message and literature can be as good a vehicle as any to send it through.