Review: No Document— a novel or a puzzle?

24 May 2021

No Document is a non-fiction essay by Anwen Crawford about power in the face of human suffering. Through her own experiences of losing a close friend, interwoven with political disseminations, Anwen Crawford attempts to unravel her pain and explore loss in the form of artworks, film and protest. 

From the first page, Crawford shocks and jars the reader. Rather than relying on a winding personal account of her own familiarity with death, and the effect it had on her, Crawford intersperses allusions to Georges Franju’s 1949 documentary Le Sang des Bêtes.  The documentary itself features the explicit slaughtering of a horse and it is this scene that Crawford returns to at multiple points to catapult the story forward. It is a haunting and evocative device, mixing death and destruction in an alluring and memorable fashion that urges the reader to keep reading just to uncover more.   

The most notable aspect of Crawford’s essay is articulated through the structure. Sentences become fragmented and extrapolated across pages, bouncing against one another with a lack of finality and conclusion. At first, it appears messy and confusing, and yet if it were any different it is difficult to believe the essays Crawford has written would have the same tenacity and merit. 

As you sit, whether on the shaky train or in the ringing silence of your room, you are forced to keep your attention to the page. To read the words, and read them again, and let your eyes run down the spires and swirls of letters and lines. If you do not comply, the poetry disappears before you. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment and its greatest difficulty, the essays constructed are seemingly unrelated and yet weave together in the most lyrical fashion. No Document is a puzzle, and it is the reader who must connect the sentences together. 

It is within these lines that Crawford goes beyond the foundations of her essay to explore the grief of surviving. Through short bursts of secondary sources gathered across the making of the novel, the author grasps the opportunity to voice her condemnation of war, the Australian immigration policy and colonisation. Her own experience as a socialist is echoed in the subtle, yet heartfelt, criticism of our current social climate. 

In fact, each section is separated, not by chapter headings, but by a single rectangle printed on the page. It is a gorgeous reference to the novel’s title, calling for change against our current system, and gracefully emphasising the importance of human solidarity. “We”, she repeats on several occasions. We. 

It is in this stunningly interpersonal novel that Crawford reveals the most about what it is to be human, and incenses readers to contemplate their own virtues and perspectives. Near to the beginning of the novel, Crawford writes, “The fact that we are shaken together”. In this one line, the author and the readers become connected through shared loss, words and doubt. Grief is an intimate and personal encounter, and yet a universal reflection too, understood by many within different spaces and different times. No Document reminds us of the yawning stretch of time we have spent on earth, and asks us to linger longer and hold everyone for a second more. 



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