The Gulf
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The Gulf

Anna Spargo-Ryan

‘He found an egg at the park so he incubated it and this tortoise hatched out.‘

Skye’s sixteen, and her mum has just morphed into yet another boyfriend. Trouble is, Jason’s bad news. Really bad. Now Mum’s quit her job and they’re all moving north to Port Flinders, population nobody.

‘That’s a Southern Right Whale. They have the largest balls of any animal in the world.’

She’d do anything to keep her ten-year-old brother safe. Things she can’t even say out loud. But maybe she’s in love, too, a bit. Local footy legend Raf has such warm hands. He helps her forget, just for a minute.

‘Ladybirds bleed from their knees when they’re stressed.‘

But when Jason gets violent, Skye knows she has to take control. She’s got to get Ben out and their mum’s useless as. The train home to Adelaide leaves first thing each morning and they both need to be on it. Now.

‘He says you can be so worried you die.’

Everything else can wait.

The Gulf
is a tender, joyous, funny coming-of-age story from the inimitable, alchemical imagination of Anna Spargo-Ryan.


This is a book that tears your heart out. At times you may even stop reading, and flinch, as if the words on the page could physically hurt you. Yet, for all that, it is lucid and contained. Anna Spargo-Ryan is a writer in command of every sentence, who somehow makes the unspeakable succinct.

The story follows Skye, a sixteen-year-old loner living with her single mother and prodigal ten-year-old brother, Ben. Their life in Adelaide is fairly normal and uneventful, until her mother introduces her latest boyfriend, Jason. Jason is a crude and tattooed thug with a menacing manner. At first, Skye thinks they just have to wait him out and that her mother will lose interest like she has done with previous boyfriends. But things move confusingly fast, and suddenly her mother is working for the self-employed Jason and they are all moving to his hometown of Port Flinders.

Located in South Australia’s Gulf region, Port Flinders is the small town from which the book takes its title. But the ‘gulf’ here is not just geographical: it’s the gulf between rich and poor; between opportunity and disadvantage. Most poignantly, it’s the gulf between Skye and her mother as their home life becomes increasingly dysfunctional. As Skye tries to take care of herself and her brother, the decisions that she is forced to make are increasingly dangerous for both of them.

But it’s not all bleak. Countering the gloominess of the plot is a wonderful friendship between Skye and her brother, and a convincing coming-of-age story. Spargo-Ryan’s prose is viscerally direct, throwing the reader into the (at times, deeply disturbing) action. Evocative descriptions like ‘everything had a gumleaf smell’ embed Skye’s experience in readers’ imaginations. Overall, the story may be ugly, but the storytelling is cathartic.

Hilary Simmons works as a bookseller at Readings at the State Library Victoria, and as part of the Readings events team.

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