Monday, November 17, 2014

Coal Creek by Alex Miller

I have to take this book back to the library tomorrow (I am so proud of myself for joining the library and borrowing a book!), but book club isn’t till this weekend, which is a bummer. So I thought I’d write a little post.

I finished reading it on the weekend and oh my did I cry. I actually found it a hard book to keep reading, because from the beginning you know that one day some thing in some way bad is going to happen. The foreboding got so terrible that I had to flick ahead when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I just didn’t want to have to read through it.

However, it is an excellent and well-wrought book. I confess to not having heard of, or of having heard of and forgotten about, Alex Miller, but he’s actually won the Miles Franklin Literary Award twice, and by many accounts is one of the best fiction writers this country has. I’d certainly be happy to read more.

This story is set up in the stockman-inhabited ranges of far North Queensland, and perhaps I felt some affinity for that as I actually did wildlife research on a cattle station in the hills north-west of Townville for three years, and I met folks after the fashion of the characters in this novel, peculiar folks whose lives were strange to me, and I sensed that I understood what the author meant by what those folks ‘know’ about the way of things up there that outsiders don’t.

It’s a tragic tale, that is tragic beyond the circumstances, as they usually are. The moral of it is found in what comes of a failure to understand the character and intentions of another, and of a willfulness to misjudge them, and so to react in an ignorant fear and panic that unleashes terrible and altogether unnecessary consequences on them. It’s the misunderstanding that is most awful. I can still hardly bear to think of it.

But for all that it is strangely edifying, and in many ways beautiful, sprinkled with memories of a mother’s love of her bible and to Christ hanging on the cross. There’s a mature self-awareness in it, and the protagonist, who narrates the whole tale, is generous where the characters aren't, voicing thoughts such as “I believe in his heart Ben always resented carrying the cruelness that had been put there” (if I'd owned this book there'd have been some underlining).

The book closes in forgiveness and peace. I’d recommend it.

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