Things We Bury by Matthew Ryan Davies

Reviewed by Rod McLary

It is a common trope in stories about families that the matriarch or patriarch is on his/her death bed and the family gathers around and all the unresolved tensions and undisclosed secrets are exposed for good or bad.  Think of Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm and what flows from the imminent death of Elizabeth Hunter.  But as John Lydgate said in 1440, ‘comparisons are odious’ so I will avoid drawing any comparison between these two books however tempting it might be.

In Things We Bury, Stephen Harding – the CEO of a property development company – has crashed his car into a pylon of a bridge and almost died.  He has been put in an induced coma and questions are being asked whether the accident was deliberate.

His children – Dane, Jacinta [or Jac] and Josh – gather around their mother Blaise and attempt to come to terms with what may have driven Stephen to this critical point.  Each of the children is carrying his/her own burden – some heavier than others.  Dane is faced with his future running the company and feels inadequate to do so while at the same trying to keep his marriage together.  Jac is secretly engaged and is struggling with her sexuality and why she continues to self-sabotage her relationships.  Josh is a reality TV host – of a show called Relationship Rescue [rather ironic under the circumstances] – and has been accused of sexual impropriety with a female participant.  He has been outed well and truly as evidenced by an incident on a train where a fellow passenger recognises him and throws a milkshake over him.  He carries the odour of the milkshake and his inappropriate behaviour with him to the family home.  Josh also has a marriage which is under some considerable strain.

Things We Bury is a slow burn of a novel.  As the narrative arc gradually unfolds, each of the siblings talk their way through the issues and conflicts facing them while reassuring each other and themselves that they are devastated by their father’s accident and the reason behind it which lies just beyond their grasp.  Unexpectedly, Stephen dies and this throws the family further into disarray and brings into sharper relief the tensions between the siblings.

But there is a deeper and darker issue at play in the novel.  There are references to St Augustine’s Catholic Church which is due to be demolished so that an apartment block can be built.  The urgency to demolish the church seems to have over ridden other considerations such as Indigenous history and the building’s heritage value.  The underlying reason for the rushed demolition of the church when it emerges brings a clarity to the actions of Stephen and particularly his reasons for the car crash; and raises for the reader’s consideration the issues of depression and child sexual abuse.

While perhaps lacking in inner tension and dramatic impact, Things We Bury nevertheless is a thoughtful and considered novel.  It raises serious issues in an understated manner which counterintuitively provides them with an added strength.  The novel is one which deserves to be read and thought about.

Matthew Ryan Davies is a freelance copywriter and editor mostly for the healthcare sector.  He ghost-writes non-fiction books, edits university textbooks, and writes scripts for educational videos and documentaries.  Matthew is the author of This Thing of Darkness which was highly commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Things We Bury


by Matthew Ryan Davies

Pan Macmillan

ISBN 978 176098 792 3

$34.99; 352pp

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