Everyone in this book is bereft. Despite the fact that the central event is the murder of a child and that her brother Quinn was suspected of the heinous crime and that he fled home the day of the murder and eventually served at Gallipoli and in France and that his mother is dying of influenza when he returns to tell her that he did not commit the crime, despite all this, I did appreciate and even enjoy listening to this book.
It is set in a small town near the Blue Mountains in New South Wales shortly after the end of the First World War when the influenza epidemic is raging. Quinn, the brother of the murdered girl Sarah, was injured in the war, but makes his way to the countryside and waits outside his family home to talk to his mother. He sees his father on the porch talking to her through the open window and learns she is infected. He visits her several times and convinces her, first, that he is her son Quinn, as she had received notification of his death in France, and then of his innocence. He saw the murder occur and knows that his mother’s beloved brother was the murderer.
Quinn encounters Sadie, a girl about his sister’s age when she died. Sadie’s father was long gone, and her mother had died a few weeks before of influenza. Bereft, they are all bereft. Sadie knows all as she creeps into the town at night, takes what she needs, and learns the news by listening at windows. She fears Quinn’s uncle who is looking for her in the mountains. Quinn and Sadie join forces and become close in their quest to dispense justice for Sarah’s murder.
The descriptions of the countryside and the people in the village of Flint are precise and affecting. He describes a country road as a fuse, an apt description in particular for someone who would be hung if he appeared in the village. Quinn relives his experience of his time during the war in France and you understand that experience becomes part of who he is.
As the book progresses, we become less sure about who is a real person; ultimately, though, the magical events make sense in the world Quinn and Sadie experienced.
Chris Wormersley, Bereft, SilverOak, 2012, 240 pages (I listened to the audiobook version). It’s also available through Amazon in print or kindle version.