Bruny, Heather Rose
BRUNY is a book which unfortunately (stupidly) sat in the reading piles here for, it turns out, way too long. Luckily our F2F bookclub was scheduled to read it last month, and I've never been so pleased that something was jolted out of stasis and into the current pile. It was, quite simply, fabulous reading. Even allowing for a bit of a technical hiccup at the end, everything else about BRUNY was absolutely perfect for this reader (and for the majority of the bookclub as well).
Set in Tasmania in a time period that could be anything between now, and any point in the future, this is a thriller that touches on politics, corruption, conspiracy, climate change, family tensions and connection, and the ever present threat of loss of autonomy and control (personal, place, and mindset). It does it all from the viewpoint of a family deeply embedded in local political and activist life. A grandfather unionist, a father politician, and now a son who is Liberal premier, a daughter who is the Leader of the Opposition, and a twin sister who is a professional negotiator, returning to the State she grew up in to assist her brother after a bomb attempts to destroy his big infrastructure program - a huge bridge between "mainland" Tasmania and the idyllic island of Bruny.
There's a lot going on in BRUNY and it's a bit of a genre buster. Part political commentary, part thriller, there's romance and family drama, delivered with dystopian elements, in a nicely laid back, verging on delightfully sarcastic style in places. The characters are brilliantly conceived and executed, and the tensions and family loyalties and interactions are utterly believable. There's humour, even laugh out loud moments, and there's a lot of cleverly developed threat and intrigue at the same time. It's fascinating how the tensions between the people of the island of Bruny and the main island perfectly mirror those between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia. BRUNY also addresses race relations and xenophobia, the exploitation of workers, feminism and the struggle that is coming to terms with ageing and terminal illness. If you're a reader that's normally decidedly leery of anything romantically inclined, here it's nicely low key, and somehow sort of felt right that novel that's mashing together so many genre elements, would include a bit of will they / won't they. In the same way if dystopian has you searching for the exits, there's nothing other-worldly about this version - making it even more chilling as a result.
What's most fascinating about BRUNY overall is the way that the timeline of the novel could be anywhere from now to any point in the future. Towards the end of the story, things get very complicated for everyone when Tasmania is hit by a cyclone, and I have to confess the idea of a cyclone that far down the globe didn't make me blink for a nanosecond (and then the week after that areas of WA never previously regarded as likely were hit by a cyclone and the third thought I had was, well BRUNY nailed that as well....).
At the heart of the whole thing though is the affect that politics and differing viewpoints have within the central Coleman family and the way that is reflected in the wider community. Development, exploitation, money above well-being, 'jobs and growth' in spite of environmental limitations, it's all here. The style is pitch-perfect though, never telling, showing the reader the eventualities, presenting scenarios that were real, believable and impossible to discount. At one point it started to feel less fictional thriller, more documentary.
As a side point, this was a novel that caused a rather unexpected event in our F2F bookclub gathering. Normally when we all love a book, the conversation turns to other things. This time it kept coming back to BRUNY, and everyone had something that resonated so strongly, so viscerally that they had to talk about it.
How far would your government go?
A right-wing US president has withdrawn America from the Middle East and the UN. Daesh has a thoroughfare to the sea and China is Australia's newest ally. When a bomb goes off in remote Tasmania, Astrid Coleman agrees to return home to help her brother before an upcoming election. But this is no simple task. Her brother and sister are on either side of politics, the community is full of conspiracy theories, and her father is quoting Shakespeare. Only on Bruny does the world seem sane.
Until Astrid discovers how far the government is willing to go.