Hurdy Gurdy

Jenny Ackland

Hurdy Gurdy
Allen & Unwin
4 June 2024

Hurdy Gurdy

Jenny Ackland

She tells me to sit down, that she has something I need to hear and it's that they don't cut hair or set curls. Well, we do, she says, but not always. We help them with a problem. We make it go away.

In a near-future Australia, the world has changed. A small circus caravan travels the countryside performing for dwindling audiences. Matriarch Queenie works outside the law, helped by high-diver Win, nineteen and yearning for love. By night, they gather under the dark sky, joined by philosophical clown Valentina, and Girl, who they found at the side of the road. By day, they offer other services: hairdressing for women and a close shave for men. But while women come to them for help, men tend to disappear.

And in the distance, a reverend and his nun-like companion preach against alcohol, adultery and abortion. Two groups on an ideological collision course in a landscape altered by time and human error, while overhead a space mission has gone wrong.

Hurdy Gurdy sits alongside classics like The Handmaid's Tale, Station Eleven and The Natural Way of Things, and is a provocation, both compelling and haunting. It's a feminist revenge tale about the choices that women have to make, and it asks the big questions: Can beauty be found in times of great darkness? How do we go on?


Jenny Ackland’s new book unfolds in a world that has already lived through a series of endings; a near-future version of Australia where climate-stricken shanty towns litter the earth and ill-fated space missions dart across the sky. Out of the desert, she weaves a powerful narrative that ponders and reckons with our nation’s past, present and future.

The novel is mostly plotted through the eyes of two ideologically opposed groups: an ageing preacher and his companion, and a small, enigmatic circus troupe – matriarch Queenie, high-diver Win, enigmatic clown Valentina, and a roadside adoptee known as Girl. As both parties make their way through the world, they ponder, intersect and collide, revealing secrets and changing the people they meet. Over the course of that journey, the novel’s tone shifts and balances, meeting itself somewhere at a midpoint between feminine revenge narrative, political fable and philosophical debate, but it never loses its focus.

Fans of her previous novels, The Secret Son and Little Gods (the latter of which made the shortlist for the Stella Prize in 2019) who do not normally read speculative fiction may feel trepidation about this more fable-like setting, but shouldn’t hesitate to pick up a copy: Ackland’s prowess with character and eye for the stranger parts of Australiana are stronger than ever. More practiced speculative genre fans will find much to enjoy as well. Similarly to The Handmaid’s Tale, the world-building is intricate and expertly crafted, but not immediately laid out, offering some room for reader interpretation, and the visions it presents are reminiscent of the stylings of Terra Nullius and Station Eleven while maintaining an undeniable originality of Ackland’s own.

Hurdy Gurdy is relevant to us all, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on shortlists in the coming months – it’s the most unique novel I’ve read all year.

This item is in-stock at 8 shops and will ship in 3-4 days

Our stock data is updated periodically, and availability may change throughout the day for in-demand items. Please call the relevant shop for the most current stock information. Prices are subject to change without notice.

Sign in or become a Readings Member to add this title to a wishlist.