I have been wanting to read this book for ages. It won the Debut Indie Book Award and I had read great things about it from an Australian Writer’s Blog I subscribe to. Well, the library did me proud. It was not in stock, not even published in the UK until now. I put in an order online and it arrived last week.
The setting is both Chichester and South Australia; how apt. Reminiscent of The Poisonwood Bible in some ways, although we hear only one point of view, that of the eldest daughter, Hester, this tells of a devoutly Christian man, improvident and deeply flawed, who destroys his family by degrees. Pride, stubbornness, blind faith, lead him to drag his family to the Coorong, in a last-ditch attempt to rekindle his fortunes, first as a dairy farmer and latterly a sheep farmer.
This multi-layered book will live with me a long time. Key to the book is the family’s relationship with the Ngarrindjeri natives who live on and around the family’s ‘property’ and in particular, Tull, a half-caste boy, who has more native intelligence and humanity than the father can ever know. It is, of course, a story of the white man’s arrogance, but it is subtle, in as much as Hester’s father considers himself to be doing good until disappointment turns him evil.
Characterisation and an acute sense of place thread their way through the book. Of the area around Chichester ” the interlacing of hedgerows .. meander through unblemished fields. Of the Coorong, we live the seasons, cold, wet winters, hot, parched summers “the wind was coming in hot breaths from the north…. I watched it ruffling and stroking its way across the water”.
As well as being a fabulous read, this is a book with raw intelligence and understanding. A book to keep and savour.