I’ve had quite a good year this year with Big River Little Fish. It began by being shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Award for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. I didn’t win but I was flown to Sydney for a big dinner at the Opera House. And being shortlisted was a huge honor. Here’s what the judges had to say about the book.
Born ‘backwards’ at Big Bend on the Murray River in South Australia, Tom Downs’s fifteen years have been difficult. He has always found that things like reading and writing did not come easy. It seemed natural to immerse himself in the wisdom of Old Mother Murray and he was happiest when caring for the vulnerable riverbank dwellers, feeding the neighbour’s lambs, helping his foster dad fix a car or tractor or riding a Harley. Yet the unanswered questions surrounding his mother Lil, who died giving Tom life, his father’s rejection and his adoption by Ted and Marge continually swirl around him. When the worst floods in a century threaten Swan Reach, Tom must come into his own.
Belinda Jeffrey uses different voices including those of Tom, his father Oliver, Ted his foster father and Murray, who found Tom as a baby, to weave an intricate plot with some surprising twists. Each character is depicted in rich detail and with great compassion. The pieces in the complex puzzle surrounding Tom’s life are skilfully brought together in the final pages.
While attending carefully to the historical events of the flood, Jeffrey also evokes its physical power and inevitability. The personal and physical devastation wrought by the flood are described with great sensitivity, and the image of the river as the lifeblood of the town and its people is masterful.
In September Big River was shortlisted for the QLD Premier’s Literary Awards and I felt sure it had a chance given the recent flooding crisis which affected my own house, too. But, no. It does mean two shiny stickers for the cover, though. And what author doesn’t love that!
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