Allen & Unwin, Australia 2019
This, the latest of Karen Viggers’ novels, follows the well-deserved international success of The Lightkeeper’s Wife and retains one of its characters in Leon, the park ranger. The title alludes to the other central figure, Miki, home schooled and isolated child of religious parents and now an orphan kept under tight control by her brother Kurt.
This is a tough book to read in many ways, hauling us as it does through the implications of unequal power, the consequences of isolation, the brutish behaviour of men towards the vulnerable, the small-minded vindictiveness of a logging community in Tasmania, the long term effects of domestic violence and alcoholism, animal cruelty, the destruction of our forests….and so on.
However, there are also beams of hope in this story in the resilience and generous capacity to love, persist and forgive shown by the characters of Miki and Leon, book loving Geraldine, young Max and Grandpa. The heavy sense of fear that dominates the narrative makes the sparks of courage even more scintillating when they occur.
As always, Karen Viggers writes with a deep understanding of and respect for the natural world, with an unjudgmental voice and the practised story teller’s knack of reeling us in, making us hold our breath and allowing us sighs of relief from time to time – enough to give us the courage to face the next challenge of the people of the book.
For indeed, they are real to us as we read and are immersed in their lives. We are cheering on from the sidelines amidst the human struggles as much as the wildlife workers do for the Tasmanian Devils with their facial tumours. Satisfyingly there is never a fairy tale solution but there is always a trail of breadcrumbs to give us hope of transformation.