The Withering Room by Sarah Sibley, Review #31

 -Reviewed by Claire Trevien-


I’ve read Sarah Sibley’s The Withering Room several times now, each time feeling frustrated at my inability to hold on to any of it. If asked ten minutes after reading it to describe it, I struggled to remember a single thing. Nevertheless, I persisted, returning to it every few days during this reviewing challenge, making small headway. In the end, I realized that my experience was echoing what was taking place in the pamphlet:

I watch the tugboat captain go after
bits of my memory that broke off into the sea.
Soon, when all of me has been washed up on the horizon,
I’ll be the storm I always wanted to be.

(‘A Nursing Home by the Sea’)

I should have known this from the cover, which looks like a previously glorious wall getting overtaken by mould.

In The Withering Room everything is slightly damaged, decayed. Domestic rituals can transform into excavation sites, as in ‘Vacuum’, where her old vacuum (‘a baggy lung in Scots weave’) is replaced by a Dyson which is:

balding her fifty-year old carpets –
airlifting them. Showcasing sedimentary layers
of toe nail, dead skin, hair.
Fascinated, she spent the whole week vacuuming
her mattresses, showing neighbours the contents
over the garden fence.

There are plenty of charmingly quirky poems here, such as ‘Ship’s Desk’, where the desk imagines an alternative life, ‘flung overboard’, where sea-life would have taken over its drawers. However, it’s overall an uncanny pamphlet, with ghosts or mysterious actions never too far away. After he dies, a man’s ‘Legs and arms dance on the washing line / all through the night’, while ghosts can get ‘stuck in the chimney flue, / forever bearing down on you’. In ‘Arcadia’, the dead go a step further, their voices no longer ‘confined to cemeteries’.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this pamphlet haunting, but it rewards persistence. An apt final pamphlet to review then.

This December, I have given myself the task of reviewing one pamphlet a day to raise money for next year’s Saboteur Awards. You can help by donating, or sharing the link using the hashtag #pamphletparty. I have given myself the aim of writing at least 300 words for each, a lower word-count than the usual reviews on Sabotage, in the hopes of making it more manageable! Here’s a link to the previously published reviews in this project!