The Last Garden

Eva Hornung

The Last Garden
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The Last Garden

Eva Hornung

The settlement of Wahrheit, founded in exile to await the return of the Messiah, has been waiting longer than expected. Pastor Helfgott has begun to feel the subtle fraying of the community’s faith.

Then Matthias Orion shoots his wife and himself, on the very day their son Benedict returns home from boarding school.

Benedict is unmoored by shock, severed from his past and his future. Unable to be inside the house, unable to speak, he moves into the barn with the horses and chooks, relying on the animals' strength and the rhythm of the working day to hold his shattered self together.

The pastor watches over Benedict through the year of his crazy grief: man and boy growing, each according to his own capacity, as they come to terms with the unknowable past and the frailties of being human.

Review

The Last Garden is the highly anticipated new novel from Eva Hornung. Her last novel, Dog Boy, was shortlisted for numerous prizes and won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2010. With The Last Garden, Hornung picks up the thematic threads that fans were so compelled by in Dog Boy: human capacity for violence, the strength of animals, and how the two should coexist. She has gifted readers a narrative both deeply moving and philosophically urgent.

The titular ‘last garden’ here is a South Australian settlement called Wahrheit, founded by a community in exile who await the return of the Messiah. Yet they’ve been waiting for a long time, and their leader Pastor Helfgott feels his community’s faith start to waver. When Matthias Orion shoots first his wife, Eva, and then himself, on the very day that their teenage son Benedict returns home from boarding school, shockwaves ripple through Wahrheit. Benedict is affected most of all; unable to remain inside his parents’ home, he moves into the barn to live with the horses and chooks, comforted by their strength. Pastor Helfgott watches over Benedict in his grief as the seasons change. Yet as the boy’s behaviour begins to mirror that of his animal companions, both the Pastor and the community find themselves questioning the tenets of their own faith and humanity.

The Last Garden is an astonishing novel, rich in challenging ideas about belief, morality, the resilience of animals and the frailties of humans. Hornung is an assured writer; her prose simultaneously beautiful and gutsy. The animals in The Last Garden are drawn with rich empathy and extraordinary force, while the world of Wahrheit, removed from our world – not quite past or future – provides a fascinating backdrop for an exploration of the universal themes of animal and human nature.

Like all great literary fiction, The Last Garden provokes thought and empathy in equal measure. This visceral and utterly compelling new novel represents an ambitious new layer to Hornung’s continued investigation of the human condition, magnificently realised.


Stella Charls is the marketing and events coordinator for Readings.

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