All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

1.First lines. 2. Published 2020 Harper Collins 3. Inscription [Public Domain] via Pxhere

Molly Hook is a gravedigger’s daughter in 1942 Darwin enduring a harsh life with her father and uncle after mother’s death. In the attack on Darwin by Japanese war planes, her father is killed. Believing her family is cursed, she undertakes a long and dangerous journey deep into the country to find Longcoat Bob who she believes originated the curse. With her is Greta Maze escaping an abusive relationship with Molly’s uncle, who is following them menacingly. As they travel they are joined by Yukio, a Japanese pilot, who has parachuted from his crashing plane.


“In the centre of the clearing is a single tall bombax tree, maybe sixty feet high, with rough pale grey bark covered in conical thorns. The tree is alive with fleshy red flowers and oblong brown seed capsules, hundreds of which lie on the ground, their capsules split open like they were alien vessels whose absent owners abandoned them long ago.”

“The pilot runs his hand through a bed of vivid purple flowers and then to a thick grey eucalypt covered in so many hanging red and green figs they could form a dress for the tree. Or a silk kimono. There are birds in the trees with orange breasts that glow like the setting sun and azure shoulders that shine like a blue moon. There are birds on the ground making homes for their lovers and the homes are made only of curved twigs but the homes have great archways and the birds gather bright-coloured shells and flakes and stones and they lat them at the entry to their houses in the hope that a lover might care to drop by.”

There’s only people, Molly. There are good ones and there are bad ones and then there’s all of us nuts stuck in the middle.

My opinion:

This story shimmers with descriptions of the natural surroundings of the deep country. The author makes the ordinary seem magical, but the story lost me towards the end.

The opinion of others:
  • Guardian: “Dalton again tackles good and evil from the perspective of a heartbreaking, hopeful child – but the other characters get a little lost in the magic.”
  • Books and Publishing: “The unfolding story is engrossing, though some readers might find it a bit slow going at times. For the most part Dalton surrounds Molly with a thoughtful and interesting mix of people, however there is some questionable rendering of the Asian characters in particular. This is a book that mixes magic with reality, resulting in an ethereal family epic that is ultimately hopeful.”
  • Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s unnecessarily repetitive and baggy and could easily lose 80 pages. There’s too much symbolism and metaphor and Yukio’s fortuitous knowledge of exactly the right English words strains credibility more than the fantastical events. It’s also a work of shimmering originality and energy, with extraordinary characters and a clever, thrilling plot.” 

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