Bereft by Chris Womersley

DATE FINISHED: July 11th, 2012 

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  Quinn is a haunted man: once by his sister’s blood on his hands (and his knowledge of what happened to her before her death) and again by his experiences in the Great War. Returning home 10 years after running away from Sarah’s murder and the accompanying accusations, Quinn seeks redemption, but also fears for his own life at the hands of those who once knew him. Hiding in the hills, he is befriended by an edgy and curious young girl, Sadie, who convinces him that he needs to avenge his sister’s killer in order to move on with his life. But can he first tell his ailing mother the truth, and is he really capable of murder?

THOUGHTS:  There are many ghosts in this short novel, most of them still living. Quinn himself is hollow after his experiences, and there are moments when Sadie and Sarah are confused in his mind. Quinn’s mother is floating on the cusp between two worlds, and his father is a bystander, relegated to the veranda, where he is safe from the sickness.

Womersley’s prose is simple but descriptive, perfectly capturing Quinn’s beleaguered spirit, although (for me) not quite the stifling and oppressive expansiveness of the Australian sky. There was much scope for ambiguity which I feel Womersley failed to capitalise on, and instead the narrative moves on quickly, yielding few surprises. We know quite early on who are the ‘goodies’ and who are the ‘baddies’, and, without any true spoilers, let me assure you that despite Quinn’s damaged background, the ending is ‘hopeful’.

This book did not ‘take my breath away’ as a cover quote suggested it might, nor did it get under my skin. Despite the potentially intriguing friendship between Quinn and the quixotic, mysterious Sadie, there was ultimately a lack of tension or depth as the story proceeded towards its more or less inevitable ending without really scraping the surface of its characters or themes. Although very readable, this book will not haunt me.

FOLLOWING ON:  The intrusion of the Great War on everyday life reminded me a little of The Angel of Brooklyn by Janette Jenkins.  In some ways, Sadie was reminiscent of Maisie in The Voices by Susan Elderkin, in which a far more vivid outback picture is also drawn.  The suffocating impact of Australia’s wide open spaces is given full effect in the spare but poetic writing of Kate Jennings in Snake.

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