The Oldest Song in the World by Sue Woolfe
Kate is a linguistics student from Sydney and she is asked by her lecturer to travel to a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory to record the song of a dying old woman.
The language spoken in this community is endangered and the song is believed to be from the Dreaming so there is evidence that there may be ancient grammar preserved within it ‘like an extinct butterfly preserved in amber’.
The pretext of Kate’s selection for the trip is pretty implausible; she is one of the worst students academically but the lecturer has seen something unique in her and has chosen Kate in the hope that she will fulfil the lifelong dream of a teacher to change the life of a student. There’s a fair bit of implausibility to get around in this novel and there is much speculation that the invitation from the community to record the song has coincidentally come from someone from Kate’s lonely and tragic childhood.
I didn’t feel there was much original insight in this novel and the landscape felt incompletely imagined. Kate is an odd character, her motivations were often a mystery and some of the periphery characters were dangerously one dimensional.
Thankfully the novel is somewhat redeemed by an ending that is not predictable and in the last moments the story comes together and has something worthwhile to say about the importance of language and a sense of belonging.
Kara Nicholson is from Readings Carlton.