Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2020, Book review, Fiction, Julia Leigh, literary fiction, Penguin, Publisher, Setting

‘The Hunter’ by Julia Leigh

Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 170 pages; 1999.

Earlier this year the ABC’s streaming service, iView, placed a whole bunch of Australian films online, one of which was The Hunter, starring Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Frances O’Connor.

This strangely hypnotic film, where not much seems to happen, is essentially a mood piece about one man’s obsession with finding the last Tasmanian tiger living in the wilderness. The ending left me in a bit of a tailspin and stayed with me for days afterwards.

I immediately decided I needed to read the novel upon which it had been based, and so this is how I came to purchase this disquieting book, which was first published in 1999.

Mystery man on a mystery mission

Julia Leigh’s The Hunter is not quite the same as the film. It’s a little more mysterious in that the so-called hunter is not a North American mercenary working for a bio-tech company; indeed we know very little about him at all. He claims to work for the University of Sydney, calls himself Martin John and says he is studying the Tasmanian devil, not the tiger.

All we know for certain is that he is on a secret mission to find the last remaining thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial, which died out in the 1930s but has recently been spotted in the wild. (You can read more about the thylacine via this Wikipedia entry.)

By John Gould – “Mammals of Australia”, Vol. I Plate 54http://www.museum.vic.gov.au/bioinformatics/mammals/images/Thy_cyno.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3317748

We don’t know the end goal; is it to kill, study or capture the animal? We don’t know the name of his employer. We don’t know who has arranged his accommodation — staying with a single mother and her two children on the edge of the forest — between his 10- to 12-day forays into the wilderness. We don’t know why he does what he does.

Compelling and suspenseful

Much like the film, not much happens in the book. And yet it is strangely compelling — and suspenseful.

It basically charts the man’s expeditions into the forest as he pursues his prey on foot. These trips into the wilderness, in which he is away for up to 12 days at a time setting snares and traps and looking for any signs — footprints, scat and potential lairs — are broken up by short stays with the woman, Lucy, who rarely leaves her bed, and her two wild children, Sass and Bike.

Lucy, we soon learn, is grieving for her husband who went searching for the tiger but never emerged from the forest. It is unclear whether he got lost or succumbed to foul play. This mystery only adds to the forbidding nature of the story.

That sense of foreboding is enhanced by the man’s trips into town, for supplies, where he is treated as an unwelcome stranger and mistaken for a “greenie” responsible for closing the local lumber mill.

The only time the man appears to be at ease is when he’s roaming the wilderness and sleeping under the stars while in pursuit of his prey. But even then you get the impression he’s not entirely normal, that there are other unspoken forces at work.

A mood piece

Leigh is excellent at evoking mood without spelling anything out; in many ways, it’s what remains unsaid that gives this story its power. Her descriptions of the plants and animals and weather are evocative, and her understanding of the hunter’s mindset and practices feel authentic. Her depiction of the male perspective is believable, the man’s moody silences and his inner-most thoughts feel all-too-real.

And while the ending in the book is slightly different from the film, it’s just as thought-provoking, the kind that leaves more questions than answers and stays with you long after the book has been put back on the shelf.

The Hunter was Leigh’s first novel. She has one more to her name, Disquiet, which was published in 2008 and sounds like it is cut from similar suspense-filled cloth. More recently she has published a non-fiction book about IVF treatment called Avalanche.

This is my 20th book for #AWW2020.

Australia, Author, Book review, Cate Kennedy, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Scribe, Setting

‘The World Beneath’ by Cate Kennedy

World Beneath

Fiction – paperback; Scribe; 342 pages; 2009.

Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania is the main setting of Cate Kennedy‘s The World Beneath. It’s a truly beautiful place, one that I was lucky enough to visit for a couple of days in 2004 as part of a self-drive tour around the state. The park sticks in my memory because the landscape was so beautiful and varied — heathland, grassland, forests, fern gulleys and mist-covered mountains — and quite unlike anything seen on the mainland.

The state itself has often been a conservation battleground. The most famous battle was the Franklin River Blockade of 1982/83, in which a group of non-violent protesters occupied a proposed dam site in an area that had recently been added to the World Heritage list. That blockade turned into an election issue and gained international attention when botanist David Bellamy was arrested.

That particular protest is not the focus of Cate Kennedy’s extraordinarily good novel, but two of her main characters — the New Age guru Sandy and her estranged and well-travelled husband Rich — were environmental activists who met on the blockade. Now, 25 years down the line, both have compromised their green ideals and are living fairly normal middle-class lives.

Tasmanian wilderness

Their “greenie” pasts come back to haunt them when Rich hits upon the idea of taking their 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, on a trek to the Tasmanian wilderness. The trek is on the overland track in Cradle Mountain, a route that is far from quiet and relaxed, because of its popularity with hikers from across the world. But Rich is more interested in getting to know his daughter — he ran out on the family when Sophie was just a baby — and to take photographs that he can sell on at a later date.

Sandy is not so keen on the trip — it’s the first time she’s let Sophie stay with her father since he left — but the reader soon learns that this is borne out of the fear of being unable to cope without her daughter rather than wanting to protect Sophie from harm.

What emerges is a richly-layered novel, told in the third person, that follows Rich’s adventure across the Tasmanian wilderness interleaved with Sandy’s narrative as she deals with life on her own for the first time.

Brilliantly realised characters

They are brilliantly realised characters, full of insecurities and paranoia and a desperate need to be wanted and loved. They might be middle-aged but neither has truly grown up: Rich has never taken responsibility for his actions, Sandy is too ditsy and disorganised to do much with her life except sell outdated jewellery at local craft markets. But both are still living off the glory of having been arrested during the blockade in 1983.

The standout character, however, is Sophie, a teenager, who, in many ways, is more mature than Rich and Sandy. And yet she has deep-seated psychological problems — she is a closet anorexic intent on exercising herself into thinness — which neither of her parents pick up on. It’s rather telling that during her exhausting trek with Rich, in which she eats barely a thing, it is not Rich that notices her lack of appetite but two other hikers they befriend along the way.

And while the book deals with some big themes — what it is to grow old and compromise your values, how we raise our children, the importance of protecting the wilderness and how we relate to nature — it’s a genuinely warm and witty read.

Rich’s inflated ego

I particularly loved seeing the air come out of Rich’s inflated ego. His thinly veiled contempt for modern eco-tourism and the hikers he meets along the way begins to crumble when the full impact of having to slog seven hours a day in mud and rain — with a serious blister on his foot — begins to take its toll.

You could save yourself the money, thought Rich bitterly, and stick a Farbuster Pro exercise treadmill into a shower, turn the cold water tap on, walk underneath it all day with twenty kilos of weights strapped to your back, and get just the same effect.

And Sandy, with her spirit guides, “retreats” and craft markets, who is constantly striving to lead an ethical life that others poke fun at, including her daughter, isn’t much better.

Trying to do the right thing. To not give in to it all, and switch off your conscience. She knew it drove Sophie crazy, sometimes, but then Sophie was a teenager and teenagers thought you were oppressing them if you made them get out of bed in the morning. ‘Who’s going to notice?’ she would say, exasperated, as Sandy refused to drink orange juice that contained pulp from imported oranges. ‘What do you think’s going to happen — the fruit juice police are going to storm in here and arrest you?’ And Sandy would laugh, but a little uneasily, truth be known, because Sophie was right — everyone was kind of policing each other, everyone was under surveillance.

Kennedy puts you in the heads of these characters and shows you their good points and their bad. But by showing the wider context of their lives — where they fit in today’s society as opposed to the role they played in the past — she offers up a domestic family drama on a grander scale. Critically acclaimed American writers, such as Jonathan Franzen and TC Boyle, often came to mind as I read this book; I’d argue that Kennedy is pretty much in the same league.

The World Beneath is currently available as a large format paperback in the UK; a smaller format will be published by Atlantic Books in May.

Atlantic Books, Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Richard Flanagan, Setting

‘Death of a River Guide’ by Richard Flanagan

Death-of-a-river-guide

Fiction – paperback; Atlantic Books; 326 pages; 2004.

Richard Flanagan is one of my favourite authors. I’ve read and enjoyed all his novels — The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997), Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish (2001), The Unknown Terrorist (2006) and Wanting (2008) — but had kept his first novel for a special occasion. And what better occasion to read Death of a River Guide (1994) than Australian Literature Month?

A brave and audacious debut

As a debut novel, Death of a River Guide is a brave and audacious one.

It is told from the perspective of Aljaz Cosini — half Tasmanian, half Slovenian — who is drowning in Tasmania’s Franklin River during a rather adventurous, dangerous and ultimately tragic river expedition that he is leading. As Aljaz tries to wriggle free from the rock which has ensnared him under the white water, scenes from his life — good, bad and ugly — come rushing back to him like fragments of a dream.

In an unusual twist (I hate to use the term “magic realism” but I guess that’s what it is), Aljaz also gets to experience scenes from the lives of his parents, lovers and forebears, helping him to understand his place in the world.

Bite-sized flashbacks

Interspersed with this narrative thread, which is composed largely of bite-sized flashbacks, is a second storyline that follows the white-water rafting expedition that Aljaz is leading. The expedition is a commercial tour for stressed-out executives, nurses and other full-time workers, and Aljaz, who is accompanied by a younger, more enthusiastic river guide, is a bit cynical about it all.

The job doesn’t pay particularly well, but he’s a drifter and will take anything that is going to keep his head above water — pun not intended. He has been a river guide before, but is a bit out of practice, for reasons that are explained during one of his many flashbacks.

The novel is heavy on detail — the descriptions of the river and the rainforests of Tasmania are particularly vivid and beautiful — and peopled with a seemingly endless cast of wonderful characters, including Aljaz’s convict ancestors and the tiresome people he leads on the trip.

Fast-paced narrative

But this is not at expense of narrative tension which becomes heightened the further you get into the book. That’s because you know from the outset that Aljaz is drowning, but you don’t know how this tragic predicament came about — and you have to propel yourself through more than 250 pages before you find out what happens on that fateful fourth day of the trip.

Death of a River Guide is a lovely rich and engrossing novel, brimming with multiple storylines about history, fate, identity and nature. It’s also a wonderful tale that contrasts Tasmania’s dark past as a penal colony with its new role as a wilderness destination. It’s a captivating read — and one I won’t forget in a hurry.

Australia, Author, Book review, Fairfax Books, Non-fiction, Paola Totaro, Publisher, Robert Wainwright, Setting, true crime

‘Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: The Making of a Mass Murderer’ by Robert Wainwright & Paola Totaro

Born-or-Bred

Non-fiction – paperback; Fairfax Books; 336 pages; 2010.

What makes one person go on a killing spree? Are they genetically pre-conditioned to commit such an atrocious act? Or is it the way they have been brought up? Is it nature — or nurture?

In Born or Bred?, the story of the world’s worst massacre by a lone gunman, the authors tackle these difficult, although somewhat clichéd questions, and try to come up with a theory as to why Martin Bryant carried out the atrocity for which he was responsible: the slaughter of 35 innocent people at the Port Arthur tourist site in Tasmania on April 28, 1996.

Of course no one will ever truly know why 29 year-old Bryant did what he did. I’m sure Bryant, who will spend the rest of his life behind bars, does not have a full explanation for what he did either. But this book, written by two highly experienced journalists, attempts to look behind the crime and to examine Bryant’s life in the search for clues. In their introduction they write:

This book is an attempt to delve beyond what we think we know about the crime, to place events in context and to provide an answer not only to why this horror might have unfolded but what possibilities we now have, thanks to neuroscience and greater understanding of the human psyche, that might give us a chance to prevent a recurrence — or at least lessen the chances of it happening again.

This might sound like a pretty straightforward approach to adopt, but Wainwright and Totaro had an uphill battle to get this book written, not least because the Tasmanian Government has had a “media blackout” in place about the incident. In 2001, it went a step further by placing an exclusive embargo on Bryant, preventing any information about the man being disseminated via the media.

The authors figured they could get around this by writing the book from Bryant’s mother’s point of view, but she eventually fell out with them, and they had to start from scratch.

There will be many people who will see Born or Bred? as a ruse to make money out of a horrendous crime. But the story is very sensitively handled (remember, it was written more than 10 years after the event), to the point where the actual killings are recounted at the rear of the book in a specially marked off section “to give readers the choice of avoiding graphic violence”. ( I initially thought this was somewhat odd, but with hindsight I can see that it has been done like this for a reason, even if that reason might have been to convince the publisher that this wasn’t a book shamelessly exploiting the crime for the sake of it.)

As a piece of narrative non-fiction, the book is well written, fast-paced and rich in detail. It provides a gripping account of one man’s life and unearths the stories of his ancestors to show how his story cannot be taken in isolation. It particularly focuses on Bryant’s oddness as a child and the ways in which his parents attempted to address his mental and social problems in different ways — his mother was remote, his father hands-on. Neither approach seems to have worked.

Interestingly, a prison doctor later diagnosed Bryant with a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome, but the authors are quick to point out that while it might explain his abnormal behaviour as a child it “does not explain his actions as an adult: people with Asperger’s are not potential mass killers”. But Professor Paul Mullen, a British-born, Melbourne-based psychiatrist, who assessed Bryant’s state of mind to see if he was fit to stand trial, disputes this diagnosis. He claims that Bryant was “profoundly socially disabled” not autistic.

So, if his mental problems alone are not enough to cause him to go on a killing spree, what else contributed to this callous act of violence?

The authors are able to demonstrate how a series of events, in combination with Bryant’s mental and social problems, lead to that fateful day. Their case is a convincing one. And while I won’t recount it in detail — you need to read the book if you want to know more — it’s clear that the suicide of Bryant’s father and Bryant’s access to money played a strong role.

The $64 question in my mind was exactly that: how on earth did Bryant afford the $10,000-plus he spent on guns and ammunition referred to in early chapters of the book? Little did I know he had inherited a fortune (literally) from a kooky heiress he had befriended. Helen Harvey was related to the founder of the Tattersall’s lottery in Australia and when she died in a car accident (in which Bryant was also involved) her riches passed to him. Without that money it is impossible to see how Bryant would have amassed such an arsenal — there were firearms and ammunition hidden in various places throughout his house, including shot-guns, semi-automatic weapons, a telescopic sight, an ammunition belt and dozens of cartridges in boxes and bags.

The prime message from this book is not that Martin Bryant was “evil” and hell bent on killing as many people as he could on one day, it is that it might have been prevented had he received appropriate psychiatric care from a young age. (It might also have been prevented if someone stopped to chat to him enroute to Port Arthur that day: he made three stops at petrol stations, for seemingly pointless reasons, as if he was willing someone to end his journey.) He gave out all the signals that he was abnormal as a child and yet his parents, his educators and his doctors failed to deal with the issue properly, perhaps because information about mental health was lacking or the resources were not there to assist. The issue, of course, is not black and white. His life experiences and current circumstances contributed.

The final word goes to the pyschiatrist who assessed Bryant’s state of mind in the aftermath of the killings:

“Once you break it down you begin to see a terrible tragedy. What you get with Bryant is someone who did something evil. But, as a person, I’m afraid he’s rather dim, rather silly, rather resentful and feels he was mistreated and despairs on life. You combine that with a fascination for guns and you’ve got a tragedy. Take the [father’s] suicide out, and it wouldn’t have happened. Without the money, it wouldn’t have happened. Take the guns out, and it wouldn’t have happened. Provide a little more effective care, and it probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Australia, Author, Book review, England, Fiction, historical fiction, Publisher, Random House Australia, Richard Flanagan, Setting

‘Wanting’ by Richard Flanagan

Wanting

Fiction – hardcover; Random House Australia; 252 pages; 2008. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

There’s something quite ironic about wanting a book called Wanting so much that when you finally get your grubby little mitts on it you find you’re not really in the right frame of mood to read it — and perhaps you didn’t want it that much after all. But having cajoled the Australian publisher into sending me a review copy on the basis that I’m an expat Australian I couldn’t exactly leave this one on the pile indefinitely, and so I recently unearthed it and began to read…

In this novel Richard Flanagan returns to his state of birth, Tasmania, and sets his story in the 1830s. We’ve been here before, of course, in Flanagan’s third novel, Gould’s Book of Fish, but this one has a dual narrative set in England in 1851, which adds an extra level of complexity.

There are famous people in this book, too, real characters from history that many readers will be familiar with: Sir John Franklin, who was governor of Tasmania between 1836 and 1843, but is better known for his exploration of North America and the Arctic, including his ill-fated expedition to chart and navigate the Northwest Passage; and Charles Dickens, the English novelist, who was briefly obsessed with Arctic exploration and staged a play, The Frozen Deep, in Manchester in collaboration with Wilkie Collins, and cast himself in the star role.

A third historical figure, much less known, is the young aboriginal girl, Mathinna, who was “adopted” by the Franklins in Tasmania as a kind of experiment to prove that the “savage” could be “tamed” and “civilised”. It’s an experiment which fails dismally, not because of any wrong doing by Mathinna, but because the social constructs and beliefs of the time were stacked against her.

These twin narratives, 12 years apart, are told in alternating chapters and are linked by Franklin’s wife, Lady Jane. She knew the novelist Dickens and enlisted him to defend her missing husband’s reputation when he was accused, in the press, of having resorted to cannibalism during his Northwest Passage expedition from whence he’d never returned.

But despite a book peopled by historical figures, Flanagan points out in his Author’s Note that “this novel is not a history, nor should it be read as one”. He adds:

The stories of Mathinna and Dickens, with their odd but undeniable connection, suggested to me a meditation on desire — the cost of its denial, the centrality and force of its power in human affairs. That, and not history, is the true subject of Wanting.

Taking this into account, the book is a superb exploration of this theme. The Dickens portrayed here is slightly crazed and very lonely, caught in a loveless marriage which mirrors “the cold whiteness of the Northwest Passage”.

He continued with his marriage. He continued to believe that, like everything else in his life, it would be righted by the sheer force of his will. He had trouble staying in the same room as his wife, but he stayed nevertheless. He continued to argue in his writing for domesticity, and tried not to think that perhaps this was the very thing in his life that had escaped him, that perhaps it did not really exist, or, if it did, it was just one more prison bar.

And Mathinna, whom captures the attentions of Lady Jane Franklin upon her arrival in Wybalenna, Tasmania — “Why, look, you could almost wish to hold the little wild beast and pet her” — spends the rest of her life caught between cultures and wants nothing more than to fit in. When she eventually returns to her own people, the juxtaposition is evident.

[…] she spoke in a manner that was neither white nor black, but in a strange way with strange words that made no sense to anyone. Who was this girl? Why did she talk this way, why this strange wavering voice?

At times this is a heart-breaking read, but there was something about Wanting that didn’t really gel with me — and I’m at odds to put my finger on exactly what this was.

Having read three of Flanagan’s previous novels, I consider him one of the finest writers in Australia, which is why I was eager to read this latest offering. There’s no doubt that the scene setting is vivid, that the characterisation is strong, that the writing is typically beautiful (although he seems to have lost his penchant for overly long sentences in this one), and yet it didn’t particularly “grab” me in the same way as The Sound of One Hand Clapping or the The Unknown Terrorist did.

And maybe it’s the dual narrative that lost me, because while both strands are excellent stories in their own right, putting them together in the one book doesn’t allow enough room for either to properly breathe. No sooner would I get to grips with one story, than I’d have to flip a switch in my brain and start reading about the next, and then do it all over again when I got to the end of the chapter. This makes for a slightly bumpy read rather than a streamlined one.

All the same, if you are intrigued by either Franklin or Dickens, or maybe even both, you will probably very much enjoy this book — although you may not necessarily like what you find out about either character.

Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction, Grove Press, literary fiction, Publisher, Richard Flanagan, Setting

‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’ by Richard Flanagan

Soundof

Fiction – paperback; Grove Press; 425 pages; 1997.

I seem to be on a roll with Australian books. This one, my third in a matter of weeks, is by Richard Flanagan, who first came to international prominence with Gould’s Book of Fish, which I read several years ago and loved very much. The book went on to win the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2002.

Prior to this Flanagan had written two other novels: Death of a River Guide, in 1994, and The Sound of One Hand Clapping, in 1997. Like Gould’s Book of Fish, both are set in Tasmania, an island state of Australia, where the author resides.

At its most basic level The Sound of One Hand Clapping is about the strained relationship between a father and daughter, but it is far more complicated than that, touching on a wide range of issues including poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence and wartime atrocities, all set within the social and historical context of Australia’s immigrant past.

This is a book that possesses a strangely heady mix of bleakness and despair, tempered by moments of clarity and joy. Initially I wrestled with the writing style, because Flanagan is prone to overly-long sentences that sometimes so twist and bend out of shape you feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster:

In that long Autumn of 1959, when elsewhere the world was sensing change so big and hard in its coming that it was like the trembling of the earth announcing the arrival of a yet to be seen locomotive, in that month of April in the city of Hobart, nothing much looked like it could ever change around a town that had grown used to never being anything but the arse end of everything: mean, hard and dirty, where civic ambition meant buying up old colonial buildings and bulldozing them quick and covering the dust promptly with asphalt for cars most people were yet to own, where town pride meant tossing any unlucky ferro found lying in the park into the can, and where a sense of community equated with calling anybody with skin darker than fair a boong bastard unless he worse snappy clothes in which case he was a filthy wog bastard — in that month of April when the cold slowly began its winter’s journey, spreading its way down over weeks from the mountain’s steel-blue flanks, on an early Saturday morning, an FJ was wending its way through the scummy back streets of north Hobart to the home of Umberto Picotti.

And it can be hard to get a foothold on the essence of the story when the narrative is non-linear, shunting backwards and forwards in time, and told from two different perspectives.

But in many ways this is what makes The Sound of One Hand Clapping such a wonderfully rich and beguiling read. Hypnotic and unbearably sad in places, it’s a very human tale about two people locked together by a shared past who struggle to rise above the pain of their circumstances.

The story begins in 1954 when Slovenian couple Bojan and Maria Buloh, both scarred by the horrors of the Second World War, immigrate to Australia. Bojan, along with hundreds of other European immigrants, finds work as a labourer on a construction project to build a massive hydroelectric dam in the rugged Tasmanian highlands. Here the weather is harsh and living conditions primitive. One stormy evening Maria packs her bags and leaves her husband and three-year-old daughter Sonja behind. She is never seen alive again.

What enfolds over the next 35 years is essentially the nub of this compelling novel. Bojan drowns his grief in drink and struggles to make a decent life for his daughter. Sonja, unbearably miserable, eventually flees to the mainland. It is only when she is about to become a mother herself that she decides to re-establish contact, returning to Tasmania to make amends with her now elderly father. Her life’s story is then told in a series of flashbacks intercut with chapters from Bojan’s point of view.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping is a book about new beginnings that shatters the myth of Australia as the “lucky country”. It does not shy away from presenting white Australians as uncouth, uncultured and racist at a period in the country’s history at which immigration was running at an all-time high. For that reason alone, it is a refreshing — and challenging — read.

This critically acclaimed novel won the 1998 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Best Novel, the 1999 ABA Australian Book of the Year Prize and was shortlisted for the 1998 Miles Franklin Award. It was made into a film directed by Richard Flanagan in 1998.

Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction, Heather Rose, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, University of Queensland Press

‘The Butterfly Man’ by Heather Rose

ButterflyMan

Fiction – paperback; University of Queensland Press; 315 pages; 2006.

Some of the best novels take a real life story and turn it into entertaining fiction. Jake Arnott’s The Firm particularly springs to mind.

In The Butterfly Man, Heather Rose takes the real life case of Lord Lucan, who disappeared on the night of November 7, 1974 following the brutal murder of the nanny looking after his three children, and poses the question, what if?

She has Lord Lucan reinvent himself as Henry Kennedy, a Scottish man, who emigrates to Australia. Here, he lives a quiet life in a house he built himself on a forest-covered mountain in Hobart, Tasmania. Together with his lover, Lili, a TV presenter, who has secrets of her own to keep, he is far from the gambling upper-class Englishman he once was.

But when Henry is diagnosed with a brain tumour, his illness has an uncanny way of making him say things he does not mean to say. And so he must do all he can to prevent himself from inadvertently confessing the sins of the past as his illness takes a hold.

Rose paints a very convincing portrait of a deeply troubled man not fully able to escape his past.

Her carefully constructed narrative reveals how Lord Lucan transforms himself into a new man, first by having his face “repaired” by a dodgy surgeon, and then slowly but surely losing his posh accent and upper-class manners in the wilds of Africa.

She undercuts this with glimpses of Lord Lucan’s previous life in Belgravia, London, as a man heavily in debt and unable to deal with his increasingly demanding wife, Veronica.

And this is further intertwined with Henry’s new existence in Tasmania, the peace of which is not only shattered by his terminal illness but the appearance of Lili’s estranged and drug-troubled daughter, Suki, and young bubbly grandchild, Charlie.

This is a highly original work of fiction about deception and the ties that bind us to the past. At first, it took me awhile to get used to Rose’s staccato style of writing, but I soon learned to enjoy her short, snappy sentences. This stripped back prose allows the story to shine through without the clutter of unnecessary language.

The dialogue is particularly good, and her cast of characters, including Henry’s neighbour Jimmy and his business partner Stan, are convincing and give added weight to the narrative.

Unfortunately, the book does not seem to be available outside of Australia, which is a great shame given it is such a fascinating story that would appeal to anyone intrigued by Lord Lucan’s disappearance.

[You can find out more about the real story of Lord Lucan’s disappearance at Lord Lucan.com]