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Customer Review

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell?', May 6, 2013
This review is from: The Burial (Kindle Edition)
This novel was inspired by the life of Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, a female bushranger born in 1890, who went bush in the 1920s after killing her third husband. This is Courtney Collins's debut novel and re-imagines aspects of Jessie Hickman's life. The narrator is Jessie Hickman's buried child: "I should not have seen the sky turn pink or the day seep in. I should not have seen my mother's pale arms sweep up and heap wet earth upon me or the white birds fan out over my head. But I did."

The buried child tracks her mother's movement, with her horse Houdini, across the land. Jessie has been accused of murder, theft and witchcraft by her neighbours and has a sizeable bounty on her head, enough to attract a number of men keen to claim it. She is also being sought by Sergeant Barlow, and Aboriginal drover and tracker Jack Brown. Jack Brown was her lover, while Sergeant Barlow has his own reasons for wanting to capture her.

`This must be the longing of the dirt for the ones who are suspended in flight.'

Themes of death and deprivation are played against the backdrop of a generally harsh Australian bush landscape. The past and present are intertwined in this story: Jessie's memories of her beloved father Septimus, and of her life as a circus performer contrast with her present in which survival seems unlikely. Jessie has survived by being tough, but her toughness covers a gentler, softer self which longs for an innocent acceptance of self: a form of peace. Which she does find, briefly, with a band of boys in the mountains. Together, Jessie and the boys manage to steal 100 cattle and sell them at saleyards before the owner notices they are missing. It's a fleeting, pyrrhic victory.

`This is all I know: death is a magic hall of mirrors and within it there is a door and the door opens both ways.'

I found this novel utterly engrossing. While I was initially very uncomfortable with the narrative device, the further I read the more comfortable I became. The image I formed - of a wise old soul - may not be the image the author intended, but it enabled me to embrace Jessie's story. To see beyond the harshness, to appreciate resilience and to hope for some form of redemption.

This debut novel was shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2013.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 7, 2013 6:05:54 AM PDT
H. Schneider says:
While the story and the trick with the narrator wouldn't have much appeal for me, it all depends on the language. How is that? H

Posted on May 7, 2013 7:30:22 AM PDT
NyiNya says:
Jen, there are a couple of people whose reviews are more interesting to read than the book itself. Jessie sounds like fun gal to spend some time with. Thanks for steering me in her direction.

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2013 8:34:47 PM PDT
The language, H, is wonderful. This is one of those novels that lingers on in the mind. I ant to know more about Jessie Hickman, and I'm also keen to read another novel by Ms Collins. I'm not entirely sure why this novel works so well for me, but it does. Jen

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2013 8:45:09 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 7, 2013 8:45:22 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
Then I am hooked. I rather read a well written epos about growing grass than a mere story. H

Posted on May 8, 2013 9:37:38 AM PDT
Brilliant review, Jenny. This books sounds very tempting.

Gayla

Posted on May 9, 2013 9:15:28 AM PDT
Well done!!
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Location: ACT, Australia

Top Reviewer Ranking: 737