Gap by Rebecca Jessen

gapI find it

on the bedside table

where I left it


the only meaningful gift

from Mum


a tattered

second-hand copy

of The Outsiders



it was Mum’s way

of telling me I fit


Writing a novel is hard. Novels are long works, fiction is draining, editing and rewriting is time consuming and laborious. But harder than all of that must be writing a verse novel. I cannot even fathom how painstaking that must be. I can, however, feel how carefully every word, every line break, every page break, must have been considered by Rebecca Jessen when she wrote Gap. It is like a skeleton of a novel, stripped right back to its bones, but it still creates the full impression of a narrative. A body has been found in suburban Brisbane. Ana, a woman doing her best on the wrong side of the tracks, is implicated. Her former lover, also a woman, is a police officer investigating the case, torn between loyalty and duty. Ana’s sister Indie lives with her to escape an abusive home environment. There’s so much on the line in this novel and it seems so unlikely that it’s going to work out okay. And the characters, their risks, are so real that it’s just heartbreaking.

This novel. I confess on a first read I was a bit stumped. The verse made it hard for me to get into the world of the novel. The line breaks gave it a stilted feel. I finished it in half an hour and gave it three stars on Goodreads. I think I read it far to quickly. Remember that old line, from The English Patient I think, that a reader should move her eye at the same speed as the writer’s pen? Imagine Jessen’s pen writing Gap. The verse forces you to consider each of Ana’s thoughts. Slow down. This is not a lunchbreak read, that’s not doing the work justice.

That time

of the season

the sky

brilliant blue

before nightfall


the cold


the day at both ends


Indie’s out

at a friend’s


I don’t do well


at night

not anymore


something mocking

in the silence

a feeling

that pulls me


On a second read I got it. It’s easy to give this one a couple of go rounds because it’s so short. But because it’s so short if you struggle getting your teeth under the skin of the novel you don’t have much time to ease your way in. Perhaps that’s where a second reading helps too. The end of the novel is ambiguous, which will probably irritate some readers who like nice tidy endings in which they all go home for tea. But really, it couldn’t have ended any other way. I can imagine this being a cult favourite, solace for young lesbians trying to find their place perhaps, a paperback you’ll reread and reread until the cover falls off. I’m not sure if I should give it 4.5 or 5 stars now. But I am sure that you should read it. And then read it again.

Gap, Rebecca Jessen: four and a half stars.

Read it: slowly. Read it twice.


About Rachel Watts

I am a writer from Perth, Western Australia. My speculative fiction novella Survival will be released in early 2018. View all posts by Rachel Watts

2 responses to “Gap by Rebecca Jessen

  • Jane Bryony Rawson

    Spooky, we were reading it at the same time. But I did read it quickly, half on the train yesterday morning, the other half on the train home. I was also caught by that phrase – ‘the cold/chases/ the day at both ends’ – and sat for a while thinking about what that means in Brisbane and whether it’s ever really cold.
    Maybe I should read it again out loud – I found that was the best way to read ‘Tarcutta Wake’ which was also very verse-like and fragmentary. Forces you to slow down.


    • leatherboundpounds

      That is such a great line but I only noticed it on a reread. I really must have read it way too fast. Now, every time I look at a passage I see something else that strikes me. I suppose that means the book’s going to have staying power in my mind.


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