Borderlanders by Gillian Polack

This fantasy novel is set in Melbourne, Australia and regional New South Wales, mainly in Robertson (It even mentions my hometown of Wollongong!). We meet three protagonists, Melissa, Zelda and Bettina. These women are old school friends, who are not as close as they once were. Each of these women are intelligent and talented in different ways. All of these characters have an artistic talent, which becomes an important element of the story.

All three women win a two-week residency in a mysterious house in Robertson, New South Wales. It is there they are reunited and the old tensions that existed in their childhood are exacerbated by time and habit. These tensions also highlight each protagonist’s acceptance of magic. The stubborn and forthright Zelda is all about her career progression and has a total unwillingness to accept or understand the clearly magical house she is residing in. Bettina is slightly similar but when she encounters magic, she explores, then becomes angry when she can’t explain to her best friend Zelda what she is experiencing and then rejects it. Melissa has an openness and a wonder in the magic she encounters and to people in general.

Polack also highlights the journey people with chronic conditions encounter in daily life with friends, family and in social circles. Melissa’s treatment by her two friends is woeful at best. The complete unwillingness to accept that Melissa suffers from chronic debilitating pain and is just ‘all in her head’ is an example of how society can treat people with ‘invisible disease’. Melissa’s story also mentions the daily microaggressions that are inflicted on people with chronic pain or other conditions. In places such as parking lots, with acquaintances and medical professionals. Her journey also shows how a supportive spouse can make life bearable when operating on a day-to-day basis with health conditions. It can be said that Polack is likely making a statement on the willingness to accept magic and the understanding of people with ‘invisible’ disabilities. Both require an open mind.

The use of fantasy and magic in this novel is explained by magical realism, the protagonists encounter magic in their daily lives. All of the protagonists have long had some kind of magical ability or to at least see magic. In Polack’s novel it is not whether magic exists but whether the characters will accept and open their mind to it.

I grew to care and empathise with Melissa’s struggle while reading this novel and believe that it is a point of view that has long been ignored. I love the idea of a sentient dwelling as well.

Thought provoking read.

2.5 out of 5.

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