May says that she has “jagged recollections,” which both allow her to feel immersed in previous times of her life but also remind her how far away she is from those times. She tries to use her memories to feel close to Mum, but mostly her mother’s “real face is lost.”
The term “jagged recollections” is an excellent way to describe the narrative’s choppy style. In its structure, the novel emphasizes the extent to which memory is always influencing the present even while the past remains fundamentally inaccessible and mysterious.
One of the memories May always return to is the jacaranda tree in Mum’s backyard, bare for most of the year and then suddenly blooming without warning and “heaving in all its purple-belled loveliness.” May always gathered the fallen flowers and used them to decorate her bed. All too soon, the flowers vanished and “no evidence of its beauty” remained until the next year. One year, Mum hangs a tire swing from a branch, but later they see the ropes have left a bruise on the tree and take it down out of respect. Mum always complains about the tree and pretends to hate it, but she always smiles when it blooms.
The jacaranda tree is something that isn’t of utilitarian use, much like Lake Cowal, which the mining company argues isn’t valuable in its current state. However, the family prizes it because of its beauty and the positive memories attached to it. Similarly, while Mum’s life wasn’t conventionally successful—she endured much hardship and succumbed to mental illness—it’s still meaningful because of her love for her family, and her children’s prized memories of her.
To May, a backyard is “an odd thing”—a piece of nature in the middle of so much that is not natural. May remembers that Mum commits suicide in the summer, when the jacaranda tree would have been blooming. She was told that Mum was found underneath it, and despite the tragedy of this image she finds it deeply peaceful.
Here, May finally comes to terms with the memory of Mum’s death. She does so not by turning away from the unpleasant aspects of her life—as she once did with her memories of Dad—but by integrating both beautiful and tragic moments to form as truthful a conception of her mother’s life as possible.