Notes Reading Notes

I’m Working on a Building

By Pip Adam, 2013

The striking cover design confused me until I read the first paragraph of the second chapter and realised that the flipped-backwards layout reflected the structure of the story—though in hindsight this should have been obvious as it was stated explicitly on the back cover blurb.

This structure—collapsing backwards in time towards the childhood of its leading characters—opens up some interesting possibilities for reframing and re-contextualising events first seen as memories, and later experienced through the original moment.

Each chapter is more or less its own short story in its own register, although towards the end, the fragments seem to line up together like a row of street lamps with a connective logic that isn’t so obviously apparent at the beginning of the book where the relationships between characters are yet to be explained. The dramatic anticipation associated with sliding backwards towards these pivotal moments helps bring the disparate and disconnected chapters together with an intensity and momentum that isn’t present in other similarly structured novels.

Very early on, it’s made clear that Catherine cannot end her life, but equally, that there’s nothing she can conceivably do that can redeem her, renew her, make her whole. No Sisyphean boulder symbolism here—the unfamiliar but strangely fitting language of structural engineering helps reinforce how her life is set apart. This reflection of a stark, boiled off future and desire to end in stasis further reinforces that the only way to see Catherine is to go backwards into the past.