BEREFT - Chris Womersley
The frustrating thing about discussing a book like BEREFT is the reason Womersley's the author, and I'm the reader. How do you put into words something as moving, involving, immersing as BEREFT and make it intelligible? No idea, so let's go with the next best option.
"A searing gothic novel of love, longing and justice" sounds, to be frank, not my sort of thing. It's probably the juxtaposition of "gothic" and "love" that somehow or other has my befuddled brain thinking "regency" / "romance". No idea to be honest, but, regardless of why, if THE LOW ROAD hadn't been such a revelation I probably would have gone on ignoring BEREFT in MtTBR. But there was always something that had my eye wandering back to this book, and despite the ridiculous delay in getting started, this turned out to be a one sitting book. Which meant a second reading was required, as once I got to the end, albeit a somewhat rushed ending, I wasn't at all ready to leave Quinn Walker, and had to go back and start over.
BEREFT is the sort of book that crept up on this reader. Set in 1909, a young man returns to his home district after fighting at Gallipoli and then in France in the First World War. He has a history - he fled his home when discovered hunched over the bloodied and abused body of his much loved younger sister. Everyone, including his own father and uncle, assume he killed her, they also vowed to take justice into their own hands should they find him. But post WWI, in the middle of the Spanish Flu epidemic, Walker comes home, desperate to see his mother (who is now dying from the Flu). He is lost, haunted by memories of the war, a sad lonely, bereft figure. His only friend turns out to be a 12-year-old orphan living rough in the bush, hiding from Walker's uncle. Somehow his ability to protect young Sadie Fox becomes his mission, a way of saving her, and himself.
There are touches of the paranormal in BEREFT, but woven, as they are, into the narrative of a man who is struggling anyway with the past and the present, reality and his memories, it is somehow seamless, unexceptional. Perhaps that is because there is so much more to the sense of hope and direction that Sadie gives to Walker that anything that's slightly outside the expected, normal, is somehow acceptable. Anything is okay as long as it gets them through.
But what BEREFT has in spades is intrigue, suspense, and a beautiful sense of love, courage and glimpses of optimism. Reading it was a wonderful experience, and reading it a second time, even knowing the ultimate outcome, just reinforced what a glorious thing it is.
It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.
In the NSW town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets the orphan Sadie Fox — a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about the crime than she should.
A searing gothic novel of love, longing and justice, Bereft is about the suffering endured by those who go to war and those who are forever left behind.