Our Shadows by Gail Jones

Published: 2020 Text Publishing Setting: Australia (Kalgoorlie and Sydney) Genre: Historical fiction
1. First lines. 2. Cover: Text Publishing 3. Weatherboard house [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia 4. Paddy Hannon, taken and published in the 1920s. [Public Domain] via Wikipedia 5. Sad woman [Public Domain] via Wikimedia
  • THE STORY:
    • This is an exploration of two sisters’ memories and how they begin to accept the past. Frances and Ellen are sisters who grew up in Kalgoorlie, a gold-mining town in Western Australia. They are now adults who have drifted apart over the years. They both have memories of their childhood as orphans living with their grandparents in Kalgoorlie. Frances begins to understand her past when she returns to Kalgoorlie and befriends an Australian Indigenous woman.
  • QUOTES:
    • “The shore fringe, of dried mud, was orange-red and prickled with grasses in the midday light, but further out lay a white salt plain as far as the eye could see. There was a sparkle to the crystals and an illusionist distortion of distance, utmost, incalculable, like the sky itself.”
    • “Returning now was the vision of the house where she grew up, in Midas Street, Kalgoorlie. It was an old weatherboard with a bull-nosed roof of rusty corrugated iron, a miner’s house in a long line of similar houses, dark inside, closed in, but with a sleep-out at the rear, and ever-dusty louvres in regular rows looking onto a parched backyard. An outdoor toilet, rather rickety, stood near the back fence; and to the side a squat but generous tree of figs.”
  • MY THOUGHTS:
    • This book left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. To me, the main characters did seem like shadows with no real substance, with no resolution to their dilemmas – just a gradual drift. Although Paddy Hannan’s story (he was the prospector whose gold find set off the gold rush) was interesting I didn’t think that it added anything to the main plot, and perhaps even made the story less cohesive than it could have been. An accomplished writer, the author has used a reflective writing style that is insightful and relatable.
  • BOOK REVIEWS:
    • The Guardian: “In Our Shadows, Jones grapples with the “banal truth of disappearing” – that lives are at once meaningless and profound. Her thoughtfully rendered characters chase the shadows of their past in an attempt to understand the imprint left by them on the present and, beneath it all, the deep scar that greed and silence has left on this country and the people who live here.”
    • The AU Review: “There are two parts to this novel, with the first much stronger than the second. The second part of the novel sees Frances return to Kalgoorlie in search of the girls’ father. She stays with her aunt, and her aunt’s companion, who teaches Frances about the local Aboriginal customs and language. At times, the inclusion of this character, guiding Frances through her healing, feels a little contrived. Yet the Indigenous history of that place is part of its history too, and an important part, which has largely been ignored in the official teachings. Jones’s writing is magnificent, and there are many lines in this book which hint at larger truths. It is a book to be read again and again and again, and made me feel closer to my own family history, even if Kalgoorlie is a place I have only heard about occasionally in stories.”

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