Bereft: Chris Womersley

Bereft is the latest literary wallop from a burgeoning voice in Australian fiction. (The award-winning author of The Low Road.)

Set largely in drought-stricken pastoral New South Wales, with the rampaging Spanish flu and the last sputters of World War I as company, this remarkable gothic tale follows Quinn Walker as he returns home from exile to face up to a harrowing past, one that circles around his murdered sister and fractured family. The story smoulders along, collaring the reader in ever-tightening circles, and Quinn becomes less and less reliable in his world of secrets and shrouded memories, and more and more compelling for his fragility and compassion.

From a returning soldier’s ache for a single orange to the abrupt disemboweling of a lost lamb, Chris Womersley’s bleak and merciless novel forces the reader to be present at every moment. There is little solace to be found and innocence is absent; even children and animals shoulder heavy burdens. But like all great literary fiction, Bereft aspires to go beneath the surface, beyond flimsy payoffs and superficial triumphs. In doing so it confronts such pillars as loss, longing and revenge, and sears itself into memory.

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Chris Womersley

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