Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bereft by Chris Womersley

It is the end of WWI, and Quinn Walker returns to the small Australian town he left years before after being accused of the rape and murder of his sister. Knowing he won’t be welcome, he hides in the hills, where he befriends an orphan girl.

The relationship between the man and a pre-pubescent girl made me uneasy at times, as I anticipated a repeat of what Quinn had experienced ten years before.  The town of Flint is dead set against Quinn and his guilt, it seems, was never in question. Quinn bears the physical and mental scars of his years in the war, and ponders his life as it is now, as well as his reasons for coming back to somewhere with such bad memories. 

Sadie Fox, is a vulnerable character, a fey child who befriends Quinn, with a maturity beyond her years and a strange, almost prophetic insight into what Quinn is suffering.

The author’s use of language to describe Quinn’s state of mind is beautiful, and the descriptions of experiences in the trenches which torment Quinn and reminiscent of shell shock, are difficult to read in that they are so realistic.I was comforted to discover that Quinn’s relationship with Sadie remains innocent, though it is strange at times with an almost mystical quality.

Bereft is beautifully written, though at times I felt the edges between reality and fantasy were often blurred and I began to wonder and speculate on what the future held for them both. Without giving away a satisfying ending, this is a compelling read and one high in the lists of Australian fiction.

'Bereft' was awarded ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year and Indie Award for Best Fiction Novel in 2011 and has been shortlisted for numerous other Australian prizes.

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