03 November 2022

Review: Limberlost by Robbie Arnott

Limberlost by Robbie Arnott book cover

* Copy courtesy of Text Publishing *

Reading Limberlost by Robbie Arnott was an ethereal experience. Inspired by the real life experiences of the author's Grandfather, Robbie Arnott has attempted to bring his Grandfather's stories of growing up on an apple orchard in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania to life.

Arnott's Grandfather sadly passed away last year at the age of 92, and while he asked his grandson not to include any 'magical realism stuff', it's heartbreaking to know he'll never see himself on the page as Ned in Limberlost. I think he would have been mightily proud of his talented Grandson.

Ned lives on a farm in Tasmania helping his Dad and his sister, while his two brothers are fighting in the war overseas. Ned hunts rabbits and sells their skins for cash and is saving up for something to make his brothers proud when they return.

It sounds like a simple plot or perhaps a simple living, but the novel is bursting with life and emotion. While the dialogue between the characters is spare, the nature writing is evocative and the Australian landscape and bushland is immediately recognisable. Like his father, Ned is quiet and reserved but his mind is busy with thoughts, some of which surprised me.

Here's an example of the descriptive nature writing and Ned's observations and deep thinking from mid-way through the book:
"He had never worked closely with wood before. If he'd thought of it as having a smell at all, it had been as the broad scent of the forest: the pungency of rotting vegetation, the clearing menthol of eucalypt, the off-sweet tang of wild blossoms, the dankness of mud, the freshness of rain, the rot of a dead wallaby, the chalky minerality of broken rock. The odours of trees belonged to their leaves and flowers; he'd assumed timber would be mute. He wondered at his wrongness, as the wood spice filled his lungs, sank into his blood.
The sight and smell. He felt tricked, drunk. He hadn't known the world could do things like this to him." Page 118
The writing is so visceral and I now have a desire to find out what Huon pine smells like. Any suggestions on how a city dweller might go about achieving that without a trip to Tasmania?

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott made my Top 5 Books of 2020 list, however I think it's fair to say Limberlost is a completely different kettle of fish. Limberlost is inspired by a personal story with a tangible past, rooted in family and history and without any magical realism. While the quoll in Limberlost certainly felt otherworldly in many ways, there were no magical creatures or fable re-tellings to enchant the reader here.

Limberlost by Robbie Arnott is a quiet and unassuming book, best suited to a patient reader willing to make space to absorb and appreciate the prose of Ned's personal story. If you're not sure if this is for you or not, you can access a free preview of the book here.

My Rating:

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