Had I given up on this book half-way through, which I was tempted to do, I would have agreed with the author’s rather rueful reflection on how the plot of this story would appear to his two older brothers, should they return from WW2
As far as his brothers would ever know – when Toby came back, if Bill came back – their warless little brother had spent a pleasant few months killing rabbits, buying a boat, repairing and then selling it before he went back to school. To them, that would be the extent of his work. That would be the story.p. 202
That’s what I felt for much of this story. Fifteen year old Ned West lives with his widowed father and older sister on an orchard in Tasmania during World War II. Ned’s two brothers Bill and Toby have gone to fight, and no news has been heard of Bill for some time. Set over the summer school holidays, Ned embarks on his own bloodbath in trapping and shooting rabbits, selling their pelts in town, ostensibly as part of the war effect, but in reality to perhaps, one day, buy a little boat of his own. He inadvertently traps a quoll, which he hides and feed, even though it is savage and more burden than joy. Shamed by his sister into taking his limping horse to the vet, he shows the quoll to the vet who treats both the quoll and his horse without charge on condition that Ned shoots the rabbits that were overrunning her property. As a result, he accumulates more and more money until he is able to buy a shabby little boat which, after he strips the paint off, turns out to be a beautiful Huon Pine boat. But between the shooting and the sanding-back, nothing much seemed to be happening in this book. There were flashbacks and leap-forwards which made little sense, and I was just tiring of this tedious, if beautifully described, summer.
It was only in the last third that the book came together for me. Those obscure flashback/forwards all of a sudden made sense, and lifted the book into a broader story of loss, regret and love. By the end, my frustration had dissipated into admiration for how beautifully the book was written, and the control that Arnott has of a deceptively complex narrative. I don’t know if the shift was in me, or in the writing, but I’m glad that I persevered.
My rating: 8 – would have been higher had the book not taken so long to get going.
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.