Book Review: Imbi Neeme’s The Spill explores the ins and outs of family ties

The Spill

Imbi Neeme‘s debut novel The Spill was released in June, in the midst of a pandemic. Rather than despairing at the changed world of publishing that her first novel was born into, Neeme embraced the challenges and opportunities that this brought. She has since launched a campaign to support those Victorian Writers who, like herself, were publishing for the first time in lockdown. For those of you who follow her on Twitter, she also presented various Zoom fashion looks of the day, sporting various hats, masks, and other costumes in an effort to keep the internet smiling. If that doesn’t endear you to this fabulous Australian writer, then reading The Spill will.

Winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript, The Spill tells the story of a car crash on a highway between Hyden and Kalgoorlie in 1982, and the aftermath of this event. It follows two sisters– uptight, control-freak Samantha, and her older sister, Nicole, who has always felt that putting herself first is something she needs to feel guilty about.

Years after the car crash that symbolised the beginning of the end for their parents’ marriage, we reconnect with the sisters at the funeral of their effervescent and frequently inebriated mother, Tina, who has recently died of liver failure after years of compulsive drinking. Nicole, who recognised that her mother’s drinking was unhealthy, but had a close relationship with her, has taken on the burden of hosting the funeral and packing up her mother’s things.

Samantha, who has had a strained relationship with her mother since she moved out at thirteen condemns her mother as a useless drunk, and attempts to conceal the pain she is feeling after years of missed opportunities for understanding. The two sisters are close, but there are secrets keeping them from truly knowing what is going on in each others’ lives, and the death of Tina is a catalyst that will bring them together.

Told in interwoven segments or jigsaw pieces, the narrative moves back and forth between the days after the funeral and significant events in each sister’s life, resulting in a multi-focal view of a family who think they know each other much better than they do. Samantha seemingly has her life sorted out; she’s married with a daughter and runs a tight ship, just like the stepmother who she grew close to once she moved out of home. But, still waters run deep, and Samantha is more like Tina than she’d care to admit.

Meanwhile, Nicole has always felt less worthy than her outgoing sister, and was late to bloom. After a series of disastrous encounters with a horrible ex-boyfriend, she’s finally found herself living with the lovely (and wealthy) Jethro and still can’t believe that her good fortune is deserved. All the while, each sister covets what the other has.

The family dynamic between Sam and Nic is beautifully revealed in this novel, and will speak to anyone who has a sister. Neeme skewers the often uncomfortable mix of love and envy that comes with being a sister, and captures the complexities of each woman’s situation with grace and honesty. This book hums along and envelops the reader into a vivid portrait of Perth from the 1980s through to the present day. Her skill at gently peeling away the layers of each character is truly awe-inspiring.

This is not only an eminently readable novel but one that you will want to return to again and again.


Imbi Neeme’s The Spill is available now through Penguin Viking. Order your copy from Booktopia HERE.

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller and a future librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.

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