Monday, August 10, 2009

Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller

A friend recommended this novel and warned me it was “nothing special.” I beg to differ. Miller’s descriptions of the natural settings of Queensland remind me of Peter Mathiesson. His characters – stoic, wise, chain-smoking ringers (cowboys) – spring right out of Cormac McCarthy’s, All the Pretty Horses.

Annabelle Beck, abandoned by her philandering husband, escapes to Queensland to see her sister and an old friend. She meets Bo Rennie, part Jangga (aborigine) and part white. Together they explore the area, but a visit to Bo’s aunt turns things upside down. Leaving the home, Annabelle is confused, and must reevaluate her plans. I won’t say anymore, because the ending completely surprised me.

This absorbing story is not without its faults. Some of the dialogue seems a little stiff and artificial, but the descriptions are marvelous – almost Zen-like. Miller also tends to be a bit repetitious. He tells us three or four times, in a short span, that “sandlewood is the incense of the bush,” and he mentions “road kill wallabies along the verge” (shoulder of the road) numerous times.

I also picked up quite a bit of Aussie slang, which was a lot of fun, like “billy,” “swag,” “agistment,” and “rort.” Miller also has a fine touch evident in quite a few of his sentences. For example, “The dry groundcover crackling beneath Bo’s boots, realeasing the musty odours of dead time” (55); “Her memories of Mount Coolon had not been memories at all, but the unreliable inventions of nostalgia” (282). He also uses a lot of fragments – broken pieces of description, much like the landscape with rocks and clumps of grass and weeds.

The U.S. is not the only country that horribly treated the native peoples it found in a new land. It sounds as if Australia madkes a good-faith effort to mend some of those injustices, but bitter hatred remains in some hearts. This idea is central to this story.

Journey to the Stone Country draws the reader in quietly, softly, and makes the reader part of the story. I call these “message” books, because someone is speaking to me – an extremely rare kind of novel. 4-1/2 stars

--Chiron, 8/15/09

1 comment:

MargaretBeth said...

I just loved this book. But I am Australian, based at a Melbourne university, and have travelled as far north as Mackay. I loved identifying the landmarks, I love the country in that area and I now want to visit Townsville. The characters were beautifully drawn and the story was wonderful.