It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging through Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.
In the NSW town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets a mysterious young girl called Sadie Fox, who encourages him to seek justice — and seems to know more about the crime than she should.
A searing gothic novel of love, longing, and revenge, BEREFT is about the suffering endured by those who go to war and those who are forever left behind.
Returning to his home town after the Great War Quinn Walker is determined to clear his name of the murder/rape of his younger sister 10 years before. He finds that the man he knows was guilty is now the local policeman, that his father has vowed to kill him if he returns, and his mother is dying from bubonic plague. In fact his mother believes that he is dead, having been killed in the war.
BEREFT draws a harsh landscape and I found it difficult reading. Despite the original murder and the fact that two more take place within the novel’s time frame, I found it difficult to accept the novel as crime fiction, mainly because I think Womersley was trying to write something else. My reservations are shared by Bernadette but not by the glowing reviews that Womersley quotes on his site.
Womersley’s style is carefully crafted, demanding the reader’s full attention, and providing some arresting imagery.
On the day twelve-year-old Sarah Walker was murdered in 1909, a storm bullied its way across the western plains of New South Wales and unleashed itself on the fly-speck town of Flint. Sarah’s murder became the warm, still heart of several days of of frantic activity in which almost every one of the town’s two hundred or so residents had a tale of chaos or loss. Trees cowered and snapped in the winds; horses bolted ….. Dead cows, swollen tight, bobbled about in the floodwater for days. And old Mrs Mabel Crink lost her sight, which partly accounted for the name by which the maelstrom became known: the Blinder.
In the novel Womersley describes the impact that losing its men folk to the Great War had on the small town of Flint, as well as the impact of the war on those who returned. In many ways, although avenging his sister’s death is what keeps Quinn going and cold blooded murder does happen, crime and justice take a back seat.
My rating: 4.4
Awards and listings:
- Winner ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year
- Winner of Indie Award for Best Novel
- Shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year
- Shortlisted for 2011 Miles Franklin Award
- Shortlisted for ASL Gold Medal for Literature
- Shortlisted for Ned Kelly Award for Fiction
Chris Womersley won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First novel in 2008 with THE LOW ROAD