“Do you know, Quinn, there isn’t even a single word for a parent who has lost a child? Strange, isn’t it? You would think, after all these centuries of war and disease and trouble, but no, there is a hole in the English language. It is unspeakable. Bereft.”
World War I has ended and Quinn Walker returns to the small Australian town he ran away from so many years ago. He ran from a nightmare. Accused of murder and rape, of his own sister. Returning home to a town that wishes him dead, he hides in the hills and befriends an orphan girl.
Womersley’s prose paints the perfect picture of the world inside these pages. It is fairly concise, not one of those overly descriptive tomes but the words seem to be spot on, from the light falling in his mother’s room to the smells of the Australian bush.
The relationship between a grown man and a pre-pubescent girl, whilst touching at times, does give the novel a sense of unease. That the idea of child abuse is placed in your mind in the first few pages and there are constant reminders of the accusations against Quinn, makes it hard not to doubt him. The character of Sadie is quirky, strong and yet vulnerable underneath, yet I found myself unable to connect to Quinn. For the horrors he has seen both at home and in war, I would expect more raw emotion but Bereft is an oddly quiet account.
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. It is published for the first time in the UK by Quercus and is available in paperback and ebook formats from 5th January 2012. Thanks go to Quercus for providing me with a copy to review.
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