Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Voices, by Susan Elderkin (2003)

I bumped into this book at the library when I was looking for something else in the E's. The cover, a picture of an aborigine girl with a stark blue sky and red earth behind her, intrigued me. So I picked it up, thinking I could read it for Books Around the World Challenge for Australia.

The main character is Billy, whom we meet as a 13 year old boy who has a special connection to kangaroos and loves collecting rocks and minerals. He lives with his parents in a small outpost in Western Australia. We also meet Billy as he is admitted to the emergency room as a young man, seriously injured in some mysterious way and very delirious. As the story unfolds, we learn bit by bit what happened to Billy over the course of his life.

The novel weaves Billy's history together with white and black members of his town, gives us some insight into the situation of the aboriginal community and modern Australia off the beaten path. The author has a canny ear for the way Australians speak - having watched lots of Australian TV series here in Belgium (Neighbors, Flying Doctors) when I was reading the dialogues I could just hear them in my head! The imagery of the landscape, especially the otherworldliness of the mining set up, is well drawn.

Apart from the landscape, the wild animals, the colorful inhabitants of the town, the other main element in the book are The Voices, who seem to be aboriginal spirits who lie in their hammocks all day and argue with the wind. The Voices are having an existential problem - no one wants to believe in them any longer and they fear for their existence. Through a young girl they call the spirit child, they have put their last hopes in Billy for their redemption.

At first the interruptions by The Voices are jarring, but little by little it becomes clear what thier role is in the story, and their hand in Billy's fate.

This novel really grew on me and I felt like I learned something about Australia, not only information about what it is like for people there, but also what it feels like to be there.

1 comment:

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Hi Amy,

I've posted this book as a suggestion for Australia in the Book Around the World challenge, as you suggested, here:

This may explain my long absence from the blog:

Thanks for hanging in there, even when I wasn't posting.

~~~ Bonnie