Monday, October 12, 2009

Carpentaria - Alexis Wright

"One evening in the driest grasses in the world, a child who was no stranger to her people, asked if anyone could find hope. The people of parable and prophecy pondered what was hopeless and finally declared they no longer knew what hope was. The clocks, tick-a-ty tock, looked as though they might run out of time. Luckily, the ghosts in the memories of the old folk were listening, and said anyone can find hope in the stories: the big stories and the little ones in between."
--Carpentaria, p1

On the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland is the tiny town known as Desperance (despite government attempts to rename the town), a town ravaged by monsoons, cyclones and incomprehensible tidal patterns. Home to the white people of Uptown, and the warring families of the Pricklebush and the Westsiders, the town is constantly at war with itself, with each other, and with the world around it. The story mostly centres around one family, the Phantoms of the Pricklebush - Fishing king, accused murderer and master storyteller Norm Phantom, his proud and haughty ex-wife Angel Day and his children, including political activist Will Phantom, who takes matters into his own hands when the worlds biggest iron ore mine begins construction on Aboriginal land.

As Wright puts it, Carpentaria is about "the big stories, and the little ones in between." It combines the constant rumour mongering and apocryphal stories of the Uptown people with Dreamtime legends, and old ancestral tales. Stories like Elias Smith, the man who walked into town out of the sea and left just as he arrived; or Mozzie Fishman the religious zealot who leads his band of believes across the country following an ancient ancestral tradition.

More than this though, it is also about the uneasy relationship between the white and indigenous residents of Desperance, and of the country as a whole. It deals with issues like land rights and Aboriginal deaths in custody, both issues that have been debated fiercely even since the book was published in 2006.

I wish I could tell you how much I loved this book. I don't know if I'm biased, since I tend to like all things magical realism, but this book is aamzing. It's big and sprawling and epic and utterly utterly incredible. It's taken me about two months to read it (making it the longest amount of time I've ever spent on one book) - the language, grammar and style make it not an easy book to read, but it's so worth it. It's full of quirky humour, utter despair and everything in between.



Aimee said...

Briony, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I'm a bit biased about magical realism too, but there's a reason for it - ITS AWESOME! thats why.

so I am totally going to read Carpentaria.

Briony said...

Yay! It's such an amazing book. I'm still recovering from it.

Glad to see another magical realism fan on here too =D

Emily Cross said...

Briony i love magic realism too - so i'll definitely add this to my TBR pile :)

Emily Cross said...

Briony i love magic realism too - so i'll definitely add this to my TBR pile :)

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

Briony -
Thoughtful review. I love magical realism like Aimee and Emily - and have added to my tbr pile too. It would have totally escaped my attention if not for your review.

Briony said...

Awesome. I'm making it my new life mission to get as many people as I can to read this book.