Limen by Susan Hawthorne – Reviewed by John Burke


… stranded on the limen
that space between
water and sky
rain and sun
cold and heat
where we could
be on both sides of time …

(from ‘Epilogue’, Limen, Susan Hawthorne, Spinifex Press, 2013)

Limen is a rare word meaning a threshold or transition point into or out of sensory perception; a space and time between the conscious and the subliminal.

Similar, and at least as uncommon, is limn, a verb that means to portray in words, or embellish.  Which is what Susan Hawthorne manages to do consummately in her new novella, Limen.  Her words evoke the spatial and temporal essences of the title, and in a format that makes for an engrossing and fulfilling read.

Outwardly, the book is about a fraught episode in life of two women. Their annual idyll on the banks of the Einasleigh River in Far North Queensland is threatened and disrupted by rapid flooding.  The events and experiences include being stranded, becoming bogged, dealing with wet and damp, negotiating encounters with people of varying degrees of helpfulness, forging river crossings, worrying for the well-being of others, and enjoying the irresistibly charming antics of their faithful dog.

At that level, Limen is compelling enough.  What makes it intriguing and illuminating as well, though, is the way that the more intangible repercussions that flow from the events are so effectively conveyed.  And that is testament to Susan Hawthorne’s skills as poet and publisher.

The essence of good poetry is often said to be the distillation of the ineffable into words.  On that basis, the economy of the verse that echoes the observations, thoughts and musings of the women (and their dog) in Limen results in poetry that is both captivating and poignant.  Concern, fear, foreboding and tension, along with surprise, joy, elation and exhilaration, are expressed acutely, and very effectively.  The innocent thoughts and playful actions of the dog are occasionally interspersed, providing humour, perspective and relief for the women, and the reader.

The paring of any unnecessary information extends also to the characterisations.  The women are barely differentiated; being identified only as Woman 1 and Woman 2.  Their thoughts differ little in essence, giving the effect of them merging.  Their experiences and reflections are thus shared, with each other and with the reader.

That sense of partaking in shared experience is enhanced by Limen’s publication format; publishing essentially being a means of sharing.  The layout of the verse, often only a few lines per page, by each character on a page at a time, and complemented by Jeanne Browné’s drawings, make for an uncluttered and visually pleasing read.  ‘Prologue’ and ‘Epilogue’ bookend the characters’ thoughts, effectively leading the reader into and out of the liminal state.

Reading this book was enjoyable and easy.  I became so entranced after only a few pages, and then delighted with my rapid reading progress, that I found myself racing along towards the finish.  While the achievement of having read a book in under two hours was for me a real fillip, the additional insights and pleasures gained from taking time to savour the writing made re-reading even more rewarding.

The novella form is apt and in keeping with the minimalist means employed to provide a sense of the subject of the title. There appears to be broad agreement that the elements of the novella are that it be a written work that is shorter than a novel and longer than a short story, be focused and pointed, and be capable of being read in one sitting.  Limen meets those criteria admirably.

As expected of Spinifex Press (, the publication is superbly presented.  Jeanne Browné’s cover is distinctive and attractive.  It looks great on shelf or table.

Limen is pronounced to rhyme with sublime.

John Burke


3 thoughts on “Limen by Susan Hawthorne – Reviewed by John Burke

  1. An interesting review of what sounds like a beautiful book. Thanks for sharing.
    You asked on Twitter for my views on guys reading gals? I hate to discuss my own work here, however I was overwhelmed by the number of men who read my first novel – especially as it features two strong female leads and I’m told that the biggest readers of crime fiction are women! I think with the rise in Kindle and ebook, people feel less obligated to read certain genres or books. You can sit and read around the pool on holiday or on the train to work and nobody knows what you are reading.
    Like your site. Look forward to visiting again.

    • Hi Jane,

      It would be interesting to know how many of your readers left comments and feedback. Yes, it’s a new world out there for writers and readers. I guess now we know how difficult publishers have had it over the years in trying to get people to read and respond to the books they produce. Cheers Rob

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