The Gaps by Leanne Hall is one of the most important books I have ever read. Hall explores how tragedy is far reaching and something that reverberates through the people close to it. Horrific events live on in the lives of others especially when it comes to violence against women because there is absolutely nothing that can stop us thinking “that could have been me.”
I am writing this review in the wake of an extremely tough week* as a woman. We started the week with International Women’s Day (March 8th), a wonderful day to celebrate the beauty and joy that comes with being a woman. However, that light was put out quickly by the tirade against Meghan Markle and people speaking out against her and her harrowing accounts of suicidal thoughts. Finally, the disappearance of Sarah Everard who, despite doing all the “right” things to keep herself safe, still fell victim to an attack we all fear.
Leanne Hall’s The Gaps explores the aftermath of a young girl, Yin’s, disappearance and the impact it has on fellow students Chloe and Natalia. The story is told from two different perspectives. I enjoyed this touch because varied experience is important to consider when it comes to tragedy. No one is going to cope exactly the same way. Similar ideas were explored in My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell and I think if we continue to write stories of this nature broader experiences must be considered in order to add something to the already existing collection. If a book is not adding something of value and helping readers feel understood by an author—and broadly, society—especially when handling a very sensitive topic, it serves little purpose. As a society we cannot expect there to be a stock standard way of coping with horrific events that happen to us. Building upon that Hall incorporates contextual differences to her characters adding another layer of complexity to the way Chloe and Natalia have to cope. Chloe is a Singaporean and Anglo-Australian scholarship student at Balmoral Ladies College and Natalia is a blond white student whose parents pay for her tuition. For Chloe, Balmoral is an opportunity and for Natalia, it is a prison. Chloe is the new girl and Natalia has known her classmates and Yin for many years. Hall explores the differing impact Yin’s disappearance has on our two characters and how grief, anger and sadness can manifest in many different ways.
As much as society evokes the message that it cares about all women equally, it is clear that class and race play a roll in the ferocity of action when it comes to violence against women. Chloe faces this when searching for articles on her phone one night:
“An economics student from China who hasn’t been seen in three months. A trans woman who was beaten to death on her way to work as a chef. A fourteen-year-old who ran away from home with her boyfriend but has since gone missing. A Gunditjmara mother of three who was found dead next to the train tracks and I don’t remember there being a manhunt or media frenzy about it.”
The lack of pattern highlights the fact that as women there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves against such events. But the difference in societal response adds to the ongoing narrative of systematic racism and prejudice against minority groups. Society must care about and protect all women because we are all valuable human beings regardless of race, class, gender identity or otherwise.
Art is a huge element of this novel. For Chloe, it is her passion and her outlet. I enjoyed how art is presented as a valuable subject in this novel and the way it is a beacon of hope and expression. Art is what connects Chloe and Natalia. It is a bridge towards coping but also it makes them feel powerful. In The Gaps, art is a device that Chloe and Natalia use to combat what is happening around them; they create something beautiful in the hopes of drawing attention to the harsh reality of what is happening to them and has happened to many women around the world. Beyond the sadness there are patterns around the presentation of women that Chloe and Natalia slowly realize and incorporate into their work. As Chloe and Natalia realize the way women are presented in tv, film, fiction, and sometimes visual art, they realize how deep rooted the implications of these presentations are; implications that they are now living in the wake of their classmates' disappearance.
I read Chloe as angry—I felt that her grief came from the knowledge that there is huge injustice in the world. I found that of the two characters, Chloe had more objectivity as she wasn’t dealing with a personal grief like Natalia. Chloe was calling out the type-casting of women when it comes to their outward presentation, racist remarks in class, and focusing on the importance of women in society and how despite our undeniable role we are considerably less valuable than men.
“If women hold up half the sky, then why are we so disposable?”
Similarly, Natalia is a very outspoken character too but her thoughts and views on the injustice come from a place of anger and grief. Natalia comments on why women must take self defence classes, how it is not her responsibility to accommodate out-of-date attitudes towards women. Here, unlike Chloe, we see how Natalia’s focus is on the error of men.
“Congratulations on making something of yourself after you ruined eight peoples lives.”
Neither of these perspectives or views are incorrect and both are valid, but this story could have easily been told from either one of these perspectives. I really enjoyed how Hall incorporated both and intertwined each character's own narrative to form one broader story that speaks to the events and context on the whole.
“Where do they go, those girls that accidentally fall through a gap in the universe? What’s on the other side?”
The Gaps was incredibly special to read. It was heartfelt, vulnerable and angry. It encased all the emotions I have ever felt and will continue to feel when it comes to stories of violence against women. Like Chloe, Natalia and all the women I know I always think “that could have been me” after another harrowing story. The Gaps reminded me that it is okay that I was always angry and sad about the reality of what it is to be a woman. But it also reminded me of my power, to be strong and just try my best to fight against the injustice women face every day. I wish we didn’t have to teach young girls about the reality of the world we live in, but we do so I’ll be proud of any young person I know reading this book and being aware of the gaps women fall through. I hope that as we move forward reading things as such will do more and more to close them.
By Leanne Hall.
2021. 368 pages.
Currently released in Australia by Text Publishing.
Pre-order it now from our Bookshop in the US before its March 2022 release.
*Editor's note: this review was originally filed in March 2021