Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bereft by Chris Womersley

An amazing Australian novel. If you haven't heard of it before now, you have been told - you should read this!

Winner of the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2011
Winner of the Indie Award for Fiction 2011
Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award 2011
Shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Award
Shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal 2011
Shortlisted for the Nielsen BookData 2011 Booksellers Choice Award
Shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction
Longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012

'Bereft is a dark, brooding story of war, family secrets and a man's search for justice. Chris Womersley knows how to shine light into the darkest corners of rural Australia' - Malcolm Robotham.

Blurb: It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.
   In the town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets the orphan Sadie Fox - a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about the crime than she should.

I never believed that Quinn was guilty of raping and murdering his sister. He is a soft, easily led, a-sexual kind of man. With a topic like the rape and murder of a young girl, this novel is not set up for a happy ending. I don't think that the achieving of revenge makes for a happy ending. It isn't justice. Everybody suffers and lives are destroyed.
   Quinn is physically and mentally damaged from the Great War. Despite the shell-shock he is experiencing, and the never-ending grief from the death of his sister, I don't think and never thought that Sadie Fox was a figment of his imagination. Some of her traits (her similarities to his sister) Quinn certainly projected onto her. She also seemed mentally damaged, and developed coping skills such as her own form of magic.
   The image of central New South Wales is a stark and beautiful one - harsh and rugged. I could almost smell the dust and feel the heat. The prose was unique and conjured vivid sensory reactions as I read it.
   The novel also addresses spirituality, and Quinn's struggle to believe that God hasn't forsaken him. He doesn't like people questioning God, yet he does so himself. He is both repulsed and drawn to the occult, to a medium who channeled his sister, and to Sadie's trinkets and spells.
   This is a novel that I could read a few times and get something different from it every time. It would also be a great novel to discuss as part of a book club, because of its subtlety and the variety of issues it raises. Highly recommended.

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