The Glad Shout by Alice Robinson
The Glad Shout is set in a frightening future Melbourne where storms and floods have ravaged the city; families have been separated, and food and water supplies are limited. I have to admit that speculative, or dystopian, novels generally do not appeal to me. But this novel is exceptional, and I expect to see it on many literary prize shortlists.
Alice Robinson is a skilled writer. She can create nuanced and compelling characters and plot a novel so it’s a page-turner right to the final paragraph. Isobel, the main character, escapes from her flooded home with her husband and three-year-old daughter. They arrive at an emergency relief centre that resembles the MCG soaked and hungry, with few possessions. Thousands of people are badly injured due to the storms and aid workers are not coping. Gradually we discover the chaos Australia is in – the states have disbanded and there is no political or military control.
Robinson alternates chapters in the relief centre with those from Isobel’s past. Beginning with her earliest memories, we see how the world is changing. Access to fresh food, work, travel, hospital care – all this is diminished during Isobel’s lifetime. Thematically, Robinson explores the roles and relationships of mothers and daughters in the most sensitive and detailed manner. Isobel shares a wonderful relationship with her grandmother Karen – a true free spirit – but her mother, Luna, is a businesswoman who never anticipated being a single parent, and for whom parenting is an imposition. When Isobel has her own daughter, she must choose how to parent, particularly with dwindling physical and emotional resources.
Isobel is the ideal protagonist to reflect on themes of motherhood, feminism and marriage, and this novel is a great choice for book groups. Robinson’s first novel Anchor Point was long-listed for the Stella Prize, and with The Glad Shout she has proved herself an important Australian writer.