Bereft by Chris Womersley— a review
Bereft is one of my favourite books by an Australian author. It is set in 1919 and as the Spanish Flu epidemic is sweeping Australia, Sergeant Quinn Walker returns home from the Great War to face the ghosts of his past. Ten years earlier he fled his far-flung Australian country town, accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware of the townsmen’s vow to hang him should he ever return, Quinn takes to the surrounding hills. Here, deciding upon his plan of action, and questioning just what he has returned for, he meets a young and somewhat ethereal girl, Sadie Fox.
Bereft has a world tragedy as its background. Unimaginable, unreasonable violence dominates Quinn’s life, and its resolution seems to be more violence. Yet he clings to the shadow of his mother, dying of influenza, and the companionship of Sadie. This mysterious girl seems to know, and share, his darkest fear. And, as their bond strengthens, Quinn comes to understand what he must do to lay the ghosts of his past, and Sadie’s present, to rest and the courage this will take.
Definitely one of my favourite reads ever, and one book I recommend to almost everyone, this is a haunting Australian story which stayed with me long after I read it. There is a passage early on where Quinn is remembering eating an orange and how he used to peel it. The description is just so vivid that I was craving oranges for weeks after reading this book.
It is also incredibly, descriptively beautiful, the sense of place evoked by the author is painfully bleak and instantly recognisable as an Australian landscape. The writing is subtle and draws you ever so gently into the story until you are thoroughly in its grip. It is dark and brooding, with Gothic overtones, but also with elements of hope and joy, I found this a compelling read. The language gets under your skin, the landscapes, both inner and outer, are vivid and startling, the characters truly alive to us. The story is slow-burning but intense, as we follow Quinn and Sadie’s journey from fear to courage and maturity.
This is a book to savour, a story you cannot help but see through to the end and one which will linger long after you put it down. Beautifully written, spare and compelling, the tragedy and bleakness of the story are, at times, almost unbearable but Womersley’s beautiful writing and intensity make Bereft unforgettable.
Bereft by Chris Womersley