THERE ARE SOME books that leave a profound impact on your sense of place in a larger socio-historical narrative. Eleanor Limprecht’s historical fiction The Coast expands contemporary horizons. It casts the reader back to a not-too-distant past where government policy and social ignorance maligned those who lived with leprosy as a public threat.
I was taken back to Sunday school lessons as a child, recounts of social outcasts that were required to ring a bell around their neck if anyone were to come too near: “Unclean, unclean!"
As a lived experience mental health, disability and LGBTQIA+ activist, it deeply saddened me to discover the ways in which Australia segregated humans who suffered what was to be later confirmed as a non-communicable disease into communities called lazarets.
Weaving backwards and forwards across timelines and experiences, Limprecht introduces four central characters. Brought together by circumstance, Alice, Jack, Clea and Will share life together in a leper colony at Little Bay on the grounds of Prince Henry Hospital in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney following the end of World War I.
As they grapple with isolation, the horrors of disease, and the kindling and stifling of love, the reader is invited to become intimately acquainted with a readily forgotten world of disgust, hatred and tenacity.
Each character’s own journey through grief, anguish and distrust brought to the surface the impact of social discrimination on individual identity and yet, for the shame and difference that carried each character to the Little Bay lazaret, astounding defiance to be shaped by the hatred of the external world begins emerged. As Alice, Jack, Clea and Will find their own unique pathways to resignation, forgiveness, joy and hope, the reader finds redemption as well.
The Coast opened my eyes to the humanity of a world I had been blind to, through an expert weaving of character, imagery and story. As I entered this isolated bubble and became acquainted with the internal worlds of Limprecht’s stunningly etched characters, I was surprised to find my own narratives embedded there. As a psychiatric survivor walled off from a world afraid to look deeply at the root of their own fears that compounded my own emotional distress, isolation and experiences of discrimination, I was deeply moved to be reminded of what it is to find healing in its midst.
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