December 8, 2020
All Our Shimmering Skies
I absolutely loved Trent Dalton’s first novel (Boy Swallows Universe) so it was a no brainer to buy his second novel when it came out this year. All Our Shimmering Skies is just as gritty, and also has a teenager with unreliable parenting as its central character.
This time the mother leaves completely – unable to bear her life any longer, she farewells her daughter and walks off into the bush. This act leaves Molly Hook at the mercy of her rubbish father and even more rubbishy uncle. The gravedigger’s daughter must fend for herself on the outskirts of Darwin where her best friend is the shovel she uses to dig the graves for the family business. But her mother’s last words stay with her – to live a life of grace. This comes through in picturesque ways, such as Molly sitting at the table coming up with the right words for clients to include on the headstones of their loved ones.
She takes on a myth about her family, about their hearts turning to stone due to her grandfather’s greed for gold. When Darwin is bombed by Japanese fighter pilots, she sets out in search of ‘Longcoat Bob’ – an aboriginal man who put a curse on her grandfather when he took the tribe’s gold then returned to Darwin. Not everyone believed the curse but it was an unavoidable fact that many family members fell away in sickness and death soon after the curse was issued.
It’s a pretty unbelievable story. Trent Dalton takes a lot of risks… like the Japanese fighter pilot who joins Molly Hook and Greta Maze on their trek into Australia’s heartland to find Longcoat Bob. But the writing is lyrical and there are images in this novel that stay with me now, several months on. Like Molly being forced into her mother’s grave by the drunk uncle. Like Molly on the back of Sam’s horse learning about aboriginal ways of being in the land. Like Molly, Greta and Yukio (the Japanese pilot) negotiating their way through multiple dangers to find Longcoat Bob.
This novel is about a girl who stands strong in the face of unbelievable hardships, and is determined to follow her intuition. I read this book slowly, which may have diluted my experience of its intensity. I felt like I was on the journey into Australia’s desert land for a very long time and I found the lotus eater sequence a step too far… while recognising its link with Odysseus’ journey.