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The Roving Party Hardcover – February 25, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161695311X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616953119
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this novel drawn from historical ­accounts, the governor of Van Diemen’s Land, or Tasmania, commissions the Roving Party to exterminate Aborigines in 1829. Leading the party is John Batman, a ruthless, though practical man whose motive isn’t genocide but, rather, land grants and money. The rest of the party consists of a sad but vicious stripling, Gould; two Aboriginal trackers; four convicts, in a land where everyone is a convict; and the extraordinary Black Bill, an Aborigine raised as a European and the smartest, and most formidable, of the lot. The party wreaks havoc consistently in harrowing scenes, but at times you can almost sympathize with them, or at least with their desperation. And the novel has a white whale at its core in the form of the fierce, near-mystical warrior Manalargena. Australian first-novelist Wilson writes beautifully, equally expert in describing the magical land as he is with Aboriginal dialect, but his story, at least in the U.S., will inevitably be compared to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985). It comes up short of that but is certainly worthy of recommendation. --John Mort

Review

Praise for The Roving Party

Winner of the Australian/Vogel Literary Award
Winner of the Tasmanian Literary Awards' Margaret Scott Prize
Winner of the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
Winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist Award



"One of the best first novels I've read all year . . . The urgency of the chase, carefully chiseled language, exotic characters and dangerous conflict with each other—it's all here."
—Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered

"[An] exceedingly powerful debut. Wilson's compelling story carries us through forest and over plains, leaving a trail of dead men."
—Chicago Tribune

"The grim implacability of nature and end-of-the-world remoteness that haunts Wilson’s novel and those of his countryman Richard Flanagan have inspired the label 'Tasmanian Gothic.'"
—The Seattle Times

"Wilson presents an emotionally harrowing, sometimes brutally violent exploration of cruelty and compassion in a desolate land. Wilson’s psychological insights are electric; the chilling ways in which each member of the roving party must grapple with his sense of humanity makes for particularly fascinating reading. Wilson’s novel will appeal to readers who appreciate intricate plotting, rich character studies, and poetic depictions of nature."
—Library Journal 

“A grim and bloody tone poem . . . Difficult and intriguing.”
—Kirkus Reviews

"Australian first-novelist Wilson writes beautifully, equally expert in describing the magical land as he is with Aboriginal dialect."
—Booklist

"[A] grim and astonishing novel."
Australian Book Review

"An extremely skilful book telling a horror story, and the young writer's maturity takes your breath away . . . not for the fainthearted . . . Wilson writes in spectacularly beautiful prose."
Courier Mail

"The Roving Party is distinguished by Wilson's tactful and restrained account of a brutal episode in the history of the conflict between European newcomers and the original inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land. His restraint renders the horrors he depicts far more vivid and their ethical implications much more telling than other melodramatic, at times tub-thumping, approaches . . . evocative and impressive."
Sydney Morning Herald

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania)'s Black War was fought between 1804 and 1830 when the new and old inhabitants of the island clashed violently over occupation and use of the land and its resources. The end result of the Black War was the dispossession and near annihilation of the indigenous inhabitants. In this novel, researched over a number of years, Rohan Wilson focuses on one roving party: sanctioned by Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, and was led by John Batman in 1829. While the precise demarcation between fiction and fact is unclear, the story has its own momentum and its own raw impact.

In 1829, Van Diemen's Land had been a British penal colony for 26 years. John Batman was then a grazier (he went on to found Melbourne), and this roving party was to consist of nine men: Batman himself, his farmhand William Gould, four convicts (Baxter, Clarke, Gumm and Toosey), two black trackers from New South Wales (Pigeon and Crook) and Black Bill.

John Batman tells the roving party: `There is among them a chief. A warrior. Some say witch. He is called Manalargena.' `You must bring him down before all others.'

Black Bill, referred to as the Vandemonian, is an indigenous man who has been educated and raised by Europeans. (There is an historical `Black Bill' - William Ponsonby about whom I would like to know more.) He belongs to both cultures, and to neither. As the novel opens, Black Bill is approached by Manalargena to fight with his indigenous clansmen:

`Who is brother. Who is hunter. They forget this thing.'

Black Bill refuses: he has already agreed to accompany Batman. It may be a pragmatic choice: the members of the roving party have been offered freedom, land grants and money; but it is not to be an easy one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alley2000 on October 2, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Roving Party is set in the 1800's in convict era Tasmania and is about a party commissioned by the Governor to hunt and kill Aborigines. The party is led by John Batman, a prominent property owner and his rag tag bunch consisting of several convicts, and three Aborigines consisting of 2 trackers (interestingly from Parramatta) and 1 "civilised" local, Black Bill. The team are offered freedom and land grants for a successful mission.

What most impressed me about this book was Rohan Wilson's ability to convincingly portray the social conditions of all the characters. Nobody in this story has an easy path; this is a not a straight forward story of the hunter and the hunted, or the good and the bad. There are times when you really for feel for the members of the party (some not given shoes to trek endlessly through cold wet harsh country) while at other times you are made to feel repulsed by their brutal behaviour (amongst themselves, as well as what they do to the Aborigines).

As an Australian myself I found this book hard to read, this is not a part of our history that I am proud of. However I can only praise Wilson for tackling this story so intelligently and from such a convincingly realistic perspective.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By mazzie49 on May 3, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
could not put this book down : evocative beauiful writing on shameful part of Australia's history. I could smell the landscape and hear the birds wonderful
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Wando Wande on February 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
NetGalley offered The Roving Party in exchange for a review. This book is a literary western with magic realism elements. The story is simple enough. Set in the 1820′s Tasmania or Van Diemen’s Land, a roving party headed by John Batman set out to track and apprehend an aboriginal clan. Central to the story is an aborigine, Black Bill, who aids John in hunting those of his kind.

There isn’t much of a plot or page-turning action or dramatic character development. Instead we’re immersed in the dreary day to day of thugs tracking the “blacks”. Despite the slowness of the plot, the book does engage, mainly because Black Bill is such a mystery. Why would he hunt his own kind? How can he be stoic in the midst of such agressive racism? He is a difficult man to understand, but out of the merry band of thugs, he’s the most compassionate, amazingly enough.

Needless to say, if you’re looking for an easy story to read, this isn’t it. Racism is vicious and ugly and pervasive. Animals are killed without hesitation. Women and children aren’t spared from the cruel calculus of conquest. I didn’t know much about Tasmanian or Australian history before reading this. Oh dear, I know now. Black Bill’s a historical figure, as much as John Batman. They really did go out into the wild looking for aboriginal men to kill, sort of like white men in the American West hunting down Native Americans to kill and scalp–A bit like Blood Meridian, you say?

You’ll find a lot of a reviews that compare this book to Blood Meridian, and the comparison is apt. The prose shares a lot of Cormac McCarthy’s style in cadence, spareness, and emphasis on stark descriptions of the landscape. Dialogue is without punctuation, and the narrative voice exudes poetic omnipotence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BowedBookshelf on February 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This haunting debut by Rohan Wilson is a grim but beautifully written and evocative retelling of the clearing of Van Diemen’s Land for white settlers. Darkly imagined and unblinkingly told, Wilson features a black man raised white as one of two central characters. He is called Black Bill, or The Vandemonian. Vandemonian is a term white settlers of Van Dieman’s Land called themselves. Bill travels with and aids the ‘roving party’ as they seek to kill or capture aborigines in the area that came to be called Tasmania.

The other is major character is Batman, [...], a historical figure born in Sydney of British parents and who settled in Tasmania’s northeast. Batman led roving parties over a period of years during the ‘Black Wars’ that is the subject of this novel. The roving party has two more black scouts, both from Parramatta near Sydney, who join for payment. Much of the rest of the group are poor damned men, recently released white convicts who seek government pardons for their efforts.

Wilson balances on a knife’s edge in re-creating the real life that fills this story, rounding out his two main characters by instilling in them a steely-eyed savagery, an ability to coldly reason and plot their advantages, and a blessed and unexpected charity. Rich language and complex characterizations makes this tragedy the marvel it is, and Wilson is positively Shakespearean in adding comic relief with the occasional buffoonery of some of the rovers.

The raid depicted in this novel is a recorded event that took place in September 1829. Batman led an attack on a large group of Plindermairhemener clan aborigines who were headed by the witch Manalargena.
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