Quietly Australian: Darkness on the Edge of Town

“My dad, he collects broken things… Where other people see junk he sees potential… My dad collects broken people too”

When I was asked to take a look Jessie Cole’s first novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town (Harper Collins) I was also send a sample chapter to read. This doesn’t usually happen, but I figured that it was simply a way to introduce me to a new Australian author and her first novel. What it did do was hook me in immediately, and bump the book up to the top of the Reading Pile

I can’t even really put my finger on what it was that grabbed me, maybe it was the familiarity of the speech, the immediate, palpable heartbreak or maybe just the obvious, simple compassion of Vincent…

“‘Do you want me to pull your shirt down for you?’ I asked, keeping my gaze on her face. She looked down through her wet eyes and pulled the baby in towards her. Holding it against her breast, she shook her head. I could see her shoulders begin to shudder, and then she breathed out real hard, in a kind of burst. She moaned deep, and the room was suddenly unbearably small.

I knew I couldn’t just crouch there and watch her so I picked her up like I had before. Pushing some of the clothes aside with my foot, I sat back down on the couch with her on my lap. Holding her tightly, as she held the baby, I tried to absorb some of her shaking inside me. She moaned again, and I pressed her in against me. She quietened, and I don’t know why but I rocked her gently, like she was just a baby herself, and she whimpered against my chest. Then I heard the siren.”

Darkness on the Edge of Town is the story of Vincent and his sixteen-year-old daughter Gemma. They live simply, in a small, anonymous Australian country town. They have little, but want not much more than they have. Their internal dialogue outnumbers their external dialogue, leading to a real quietness in the story, a real sense of introversion.

It’s at times quite unclear whether Vincent is self-sabotaging or selfless, or perhaps a little of both…

“When a stranger crashes her car outside Vincent and Gemma’s bush home, their lives take a dramatic turn. In an effort to help the strandard woman, father and daughter are drawn into a world of unexpected and life-changing consequences.”

Vincent’s decision to help the damaged Rachel sees the end of his relationship (albeit a dysfunctional one) and has him harshly gossiped about. His already tenuous position in the small country community is threatened and even his daughter is doubting the wisdom of his decision. Interestingly, it would seem that to Vincent there was no decision to make… Rachel needed him, he had to help.

This novel brings to mind a great number of other Australian works, both literary and cinematic. It is pretty true to the mood of many narrative-driven Australian films, and reminded me quite a bit of works by writers like Tim Winton.

It’s dark, but essentially hopeful, and quietly moving.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is our TBYL Book Club book for November, and you can pick up a copy from the TBYL Store now! I really hope you’ll join us in reading this impressive first work.

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