Down To The River

SJ Finn

Down To The River
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Down To The River

SJ Finn

This courageous and timely second novel from SJ Finn explores the complex and painful territory surrounding our perception of child sex offenders and our own moral responses. In the small country town of Dungower, little goes on that local journalist Joni Miller can write about in any gritty detail. But when it becomes know that a convicted paedophile is living in their midst, the town is thrown into turmoil. 

“Down to the River is a timely portrait of a town in crisis, from a deeply thoughtful writer. Finn has the rare courage to meet the troubled subject of child sexual abuse head on. Her careful calibration of tension and her knack for intimate characterisation build to a moving, beautifully orchestrated finish. Along with its simmering moral questions, it leaves you with a fresh appreciation for the pleasure of the well-crafted novel.” - Jennifer Mills


Small, independent publishers exist to push boundaries and bring to light books that mainstream companies might consider too risky to publish. Down To the River is the second novel by S.J. Finn from Sleepers Publishing and it takes on the extremely uncomfortable and distressing subject of paedophilia. Set in a small Victorian country town, the story is told from three points of view: journalist Joni, her teenage son, Luke, and editor-in-chief of the local paper, Roy. When a child sex offender is discovered to be living nearby and local residents band together in protest, Joni begins to cover the story for the local paper. At the same time, her partner Tiff stumbles upon dairies written by Luke’s father, Angelo, who has been missing for over a decade. As Joni begins to read the diaries a very uncomfortable picture emerges ensnaring her own family in the story she is covering for the paper.

Novels that are narrated from multiple points of view can sometimes be clunky and where some characters are stronger than others it can be frustrating when a new chapter is narrated by a less inspiring member of the story. Here, however, S.J. Finn has managed the alternating narrators so seamlessly that I hadn’t realised as I was reading that each chapter shifts in the same order from one character to another. The teenage son in particular is skilfully written and although at times I wondered at his eloquence and ability to talk openly about his emotions (not like most teenage boys I know) I still found him believable and compelling. Angelo’s diary entries bring in a fourth voice in this story and what is revealed here challenges any preconceptions I might have had about the subject. This is at times an incredibly uncomfortable book to read, but good fiction should be challenging and thankfully there are still small publishers willing to take risks and bring important books like this to light.

Kara Nicholson works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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