Now, when I think about Melbourne author S.A. Jones' latest novel Isabelle of the Moon and Stars, I think of Edward Hopper's painting, Hotel Room, in which a half-naked woman sits on a bed, her face in shadow, staring at a timetable or a book, the room an airless geometric prison of muted colours.
"But the worst thing, absolutely the worst thing is how memory-less it is," Jones writes of a realm Isabelle has dubbed The Black Place. "Once in possession there is no agency, no goodness, no hope and no memory of what it is to be anything other than The Black Place . . . it is pure, concentrated Thanatos stretching forward and backwards around her life, an unbroken, unbreakable thread."
Isabelle is a data analyst struggling with depression and anxiety and still tender after her fiance Karl dumped her. Her best friend is celibate Evan, her boss predatory Jack. When the inevitable crisis ensues, Isabelle takes flight, seeking refuge in Prague.
"I was in a fairly difficult place," Jones says as she recalls the inspiration behind the novel. "My marriage had collapsed, I had no fixed address, I wasn't in the best of health. And it started me thinking about the kind of moral universe you inhabit when the things you usually navigate by collapse."
She also wanted to "write realistically" about mental illness. "When I first envisioned this novel it was much darker than it is now," she admits. "In the first iteration, Isabelle has decided she is going to (commit) suicide and she's given herself six months. But then I realised that that was feeding into something I absolutely abhor: that kind of suicide chic trope you get in literature."
The other cliche Jones wanted to avoid was that people afflicted by mental illness are "just quirky and idiosyncratic and what whatever is amiss is solvable by love".
Jones says Isabelle's symptoms of anxiety "are drawn from life", having experienced them in her 20s. "So I had a store of physical memory to draw on," she says. More clear and present for Jones is the doublespeak beloved or reviled by the corporate world depending on your definition of sanity.
"I have listened to so much of that in my working life and I genuinely think that it is on the spectrum of things that are completely insane," she admits.
"So I suppose I also wanted to ask whether Isabelle's 'madness' was any more inexplicable than, say, Jack's love of banal management strategies and corporate speak. Or even any more bizarre than Evan's belief in an omniscient God that he can't see."
Of course, writing could also be seen as a kind of madness.
" (I have) a double life. Although my two worlds are much better integrated than they used to be. I've now come to see my corporate life and my writing life as complementary. I am the group manager for road transport compliance at Toll Group. Very unromantic: I spend my working life bossing trucks, more or less. I have that life, which I really enjoy.
"And I have my writing life. I know they sound disparate. But I actually find my creativity stands me in good stead in my role. And nothing builds character like the rejection that comes with the writing world."
Jones admits she went through 13 drafts of this book. "I tried to give it up so many times. I actually felt at one point that it was a compulsion I wish I could rid myself of. Honestly, there are days when, if I could rid myself of the compulsion to do it, I'd be sorely tempted. But then there are those moments when it's the greatest joy I know."
·Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
'I went through 13 drafts of this book. I tried to give it up so many times. I felt at one point that it was a compulsion.'