Banjawarn, Josh Kemp

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

There seems to have been quite a few dystopian styled novels passing before my reading eye in recent months, and BANJAWARN is the latest.

Josh Kemp's debut novel is Gothic, gritty, depressing, uplifting, disturbing and rewarding - sometimes at different times, sometimes simultaneously so. All in all, a most unusual reading experience.

The central character, Garreth Hoyle, is a true crime writer addicted to hallucinogenic drugs, with a best-seller book behind him, based on his experiences on a sheep station - Banjawarn. The book estranged him from some of the few people in the world he could have called friends - after too many secrets were revealed that should never have been disclosed.

Hoyle has now descended into a sort of nomadic lifestyle - dodging Covid lockdowns, roaming the Goldfields area of Western Australia, shooting up his drug of choice - PCP - whenever he gets the opportunity, mostly surrounded by the bush and solitude. Apart from a few memorable encounters that play with his head, his expectations and his ambitions.

In Kalgoorlie, whilst trying to reconnect with one of his estranged friends, he comes across young Luna, in dire circumstances, who Hoyle, for reasons best known to himself, decides he must rescue. Of course his actions are all too easily seen by others as kidnapping, and their journey towards her natural father is littered with Hoyle's best intentions, and drug-addled failings.

In the nature of this style of novel, the relationship between these two is key. And the question of who is saving whom not so straight forward. A journey novel, their progress is littered with confronting memories for both, and the disconnect that drug addiction provides for Hoyle. There's also something sinkingly inevitable about their progress, working it's way always towards Banjawarn station again, a reunion with the 4 people who Hoyle's book wronged, and an inevitable confrontation.

A confronting, tense and utterly searing look at the fall-out from drug addiction, BANJAWARN is dark and challenging reading - using a dry sense of humour to illuminate (as opposed to deflect) something dead and broken at the core of modern humanity.


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Garreth Hoyle is a true crime writer whose destructive love affair with hallucinogenic drugs has sent him searching for ghosts in the unforgiving mallee desert of Western Australia. Heading north through Kalgoorlie, he attempts to score off old friends from his shearing days on Banjawarn Station. His journey takes an unexpected detour when he discovers an abandoned ten-year-old girl and decides to return her to her estranged father in Leonora, instead of alerting authorities. Together they begin the road trip from hell through the scorched heart of the state’s northern goldfields.

Love, friendship and hope are often found in the strangest places, but forgiveness is never simple, and the past lies buried just beneath the blood red topsoil. The only question is whether Hoyle should uncover it, or run as fast as his legs can take him.

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