If you like a bit of literary crime fiction, the novel Wimmera by Mark Brandi is set in my old home town of Stawell with two acts – act one in the late 1980’s and the finale a decade back. It got a good review from Sue Turnbull in The Age to go with many other good reviews along the way. I started the book at Southern Cross on the bus and finished it by touchdown in Sydney. It really is worth all the accolades and I can foresee Mark Brandi being granted as many literary honours along Writer’s Row in Stawell as Marcus Clarke.
It is a novel of corrupted childhood as much as anything and Sue T’s comments on the pacing of the book reflecting the slow cadence of the summer holidays for kids in a bush town are well made. I’m glad the kids were able to go yabbying in the nearby dams as I thought they had been ruinously dredged in the late 70s.
I never knew I grew up in the outback, though; I just thought it was the bush. Shit, the outback’s full of rednecks. The depictions of Stawell and the people rang true to me as did some of the small points about booze, food and the sparseness of communications within families and in the public places. Not a real centre of wit and repartee my old town, more like kids are seen and not heard a lot. Similarly there are some nice points made about tensions between locals and blow-ins and the re-opened (and recently closed) gold mine was somewhat contentious over it’s 30 year life.
One small error in the review is that Fab is near 30 at the conclusion of the book, not 23. This is important in that by that age he has obviously settled into a stoner, at home with mum, crap job mediocrity, whereas at 23 you could allow the possibility of hope for the future.
Wimmera was paired in the review with The Dry by Jane Harper which I read on the way back. The Dry is set in a fictional Mallee town five hours from Melbourne and the plot and the characters are very well drawn. Jane Harper is on a roll after the success of The Dry and has recently released a second novel with Aaron Falk, the Financial Crimes analyst which I will keep an eye out for.
The very small difficulty I had with it relates to the nebulous geography of Kiewarra which I suppose has to be somewhere between Wycheproof, Ouyen and Robinvale on a river. Is that really sheep country? Is a farmer up there meant to be able to get by on a couple of hundred acres? Are those towns surrounded by dense scrub? These are quibbles when set against the many fine qualities of the book. I just expect plausible geography with my fiction.
Given this quibble I was amused to read a report of The Dry picking up a British award recently citing it for it’s wonderful evocation of place out there in the dusty Mallee. I suppose people who live in picturesque English villages where dastardly deeds take place have some troubles with the local geography as well.