‘When Geraldine is on form, she can knock the socks off all the rest of us.’ Thus a distinguished author and former Children’s Laureate to me recently about this extraordinary writer. Each novel she produces is as brilliant as the last. Regularly taking on different setting and new eras, she is never less than totally believable while also utterly engrossing.
This story, set in the remote Australian outback at the end of the nineteenth century, involves Aborigines, Afghan Cameleers, an attempted murder plus an almost war. Its heroine, young Comity, is the daughter of the stationmaster at the Kinkindele Telegraph Repeated Station Number Four, driven to near madness following the death of his wife. His deputy, the sinister Quartz O’Malley Hogg, sets out to take over the station for his own nefarious reasons.
Fighting him all the way, Comity only receives support from Fred, an Aborigine youth who shares with her some of the traditional stories that are part of his identity. The consequence is that Comity lives in a congested imaginary world where phantoms are as real as her everyday domestic routine now seriously at risk from the evil Hogg. Much more happens, as one has learned to expect from a writer who always has yet another story at her fingertips waiting to break out at the turn of a page. The final moments are deeply moving as Comity sees peace restored both at home and over the whole terrain. Before that, there are excellent jokes, moments of high drama and all the time the sense of what it must have been like to live in another time at a very different place. Making the unusual seem almost mundane has always been one of this author’s many talents. Long may she go on writing.