Friday 24 February 2012

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott - Book Review

Title: That Deadman Dance
Author: Kim Scott
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: 2011 (2010)
Pages: 397
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical
Source: Xmas Gift

Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.

The novel's hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.

But slowly – by design and by accident – things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia...
(Goodreads Synopsis)

This was a very interesting read, looking at early contact between the Aboriginal people and the white settlers in Western Australia.

The prose was atmospheric and often poetic; although, I would have liked more speech markers for ease of reading. The characters are varied and many. That gave a good overview of the society of the region, but didn't allow the reader to really indentify with any one character as the main protagonist, perhaps lessening any emotional impact. However, I did wonder if this was an intentional action on the author's part so as not to be taking sides.

The book was clearly well researched, though, and had some wonderful historical details, particularly in relation to whaling and the establishment of the settlements.

Perhaps not a book that will appeal to everyone, but a good choice for those interested in Australian history and those who enjoy literary fiction with very lyrical prose.

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