Reviews + Analyses

Aug 30, 2010

Chris Womersley’s Bereft

This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher, and is cross-posted over at Bookseller+Publisher's

This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher, and is cross-posted over at Bookseller+Publisher‘s Fancy Goods blog.

Chris Womersley
Scribe, September 2010 (Australia)

Chris Womersley’s Bereft, his second novel after 2008’s award-winning The Low Road, is a rich, gripping tale of love, loss, conflict and salvation. The prologue states that in 1912, during a storm in the ‘fly-speck town of Flint’, New South Wales, a teenage boy was found holding a knife next to his sister’s battered body. He fled the scene.

The novel then begins with this long-thought-dead young man, Quinn, contemplating life and death after his time in the trenches in the Great War, on a ship bound back home. Remnants of the war include a large scar across his face, and fits of coughing from gas exposure; but deeper scars lie from Quinn’s past, and he is returning to confront them. In the town of Flint, he is known as ‘the murderer’, so he cannot show his face—but he sets out to at least unburden his sick mother. He befriends a tough orphan girl, Sadie, who has strange abilities, a calming presence, and issues to resolve that are related to his own.

Womersley’s descriptions of this western plains town, its inhabitants and outsiders, plus the flashbacks to the war and to London, are fresh, rich and emotionally charged. The main characters, though their plotlines are not incredibly complex, are compelling, and even fascinating. There is an added layer of mood in both the setting and characters—gothic, magical—which makes the book a delight to consume, and makes the reader appreciate why the resolution (which could come sooner, really) is dangled, tantalisingly, through chapters of character development and skillful (but never thick) description, so that when it comes—when that moment finally comes— the reader’s reaction may be similar to mine, and that was to go ‘oh … cool!’ By then you have such a complete picture of Quinn, his state and his surrounds that it is like watching the final satisfying moments of a richly coloured and well-directed film.

This book is thoroughly enjoyable, compelling, moving, warm and completely memorable. I had that very rare experience of wanting to read it again, almost immediately. This book crosses the lines of popular fiction, literary fiction and mystery. It could be recommended to fans of Kate Grenville (though I think Womersley’s a more interesting writer), Tim Winton, Matthew Condon, Craig Silvey, Peter Carey, Peter Temple, Alex Miller and more.

Chris Womersley is appearing at Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival, and Bereft is being launched on September 15 at Readings in Carlton, Vic. All event details can be found here. You can also find a trailer for the book, here.

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7 thoughts on “Chris Womersley’s Bereft

  1. Review: BEREFT by Chris Womersley « Fair Dinkum Crime

    […] As usual I am out of step with the majority, who have heaped accolades upon Bereft including the best novel gong from the Australian independent booksellers in March and many more enthusiastic reviews including those at ANZ LitLovers, Bite the Book and Crikey. […]

  2. Miles Franklin 2011: the short shortlist | LiteraryMinded

    […] Bereft by Chris Womersley That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald […]

  3. Guest review: Rachel Edwards on Armistice by Nick Stafford – LiteraryMinded

    […] ­­­­­­­­­­Philomena and Jonathan are well-drawn characters, each with physical quirks that are noted repeatedly; Philomena draws in the air with her hands, and Jonathan is always reaching for a drink. These help define who they are. Some characteristics, however, are simply unbelievable. For example, Philomena notices a twitch in a character she has literally just met and notes that it signifies the character is lying. It’s a clumsy attribution and one that could be conveyed in a more effective manner. She’s not psychic, though there are some lovely homages to the psychic fads which have recently been articulated beautifully in another novel set post WW1, Chris Womersley’s Bereft. […]

  4. Chris Womersley’s BEREFT « Bite The Book – Book Reviews and Industry Views

    […] BEREFT is a rural, gothic masterpiece that is sorrowful, poignant and keeps you enthralled and guessing until the final pages. It is about personal and collective devastation, revenge and redemption and its consequences; close and personal as well as massive and far away. There is also a ghostliness to the story. Quinn (and the world as a whole) is haunted by death that seems to surround everything; from murder to war to a flu epidemic. The present is blurred by the past and a longing for what has been lost. The harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape adds brilliantly to this haunting atmosphere. […]

  5. Bereft, by Chris Womersley « ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

    […] Meyer reviewed it here, Sam Cooney has a brief review at Readings, but the best of them is by Thuy Linh Nguyen at Kill […]

  6. Sonja

    I’m definitely loving Bereft, and it was lovely to meet the talented Chris Womersley at the MWF opening party.


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