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3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  348 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Outer Maroo, a small, opal mining town in the Australian outback, is stewing in heat, drought, and guilty anxiety. Some ghastly cataclysm has occurred on the opal fields, but this is a taboo subject. At the heart of the mystery is the cult messiah, Oyster, dressed in white, sexually compelling, and preaching the end of time.
Paperback, 408 pages
Published June 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1996)
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91st out of 327 books — 419 voters
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Community Reviews

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Nancy Oakes
I've read a lot of haunting novels before, but really, there's something very unique about this one. Oyster is an excellent novel, one that not only looks at the lives of a small group of people living in the outback, but also examines the madness connected with power, secrecy, religious mania and money. Definitely recommended, this is one of the most thought-provoking works of fiction I've ever read. There's nothing ordinary in terms of novel structure, -- the story is not told linearly, but in ...more
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital is brilliant. Set in the isolated Australian Outback town of Outer Maroo, the towns inhabitants are struggling to survive a heat wave, drought, and an awful smell that seems to hang over the town. You know something ominous and dreadful has happened but you have to wait while the suspense builds and events are slowly revealed. Many of the residents of the town are just as secretive and, perhaps, delusional as the many young followers of the cult leader who calls ...more
Maree Kimberley
There are a few books that for me epitomise the harsh reality of Australia's landscape and the secrets it hides: Andrew McGahan's The White Earth, Xavier Herbert's Poor Fella My Country, Alexis Wright's Carpentaria and now I'm adding to that list Turner Hospital's Oyster. I loved, loved, loved everything about this book. The subject matter - the uneasy alliance and then conflict between a cult and the small outback town out in the wilds of western Queensland - rang so true. If you have never liv ...more
Great novel. I somewhere read the question whether a landscape can be something like a character in the novel and I have to say "yes". It definitely was the case in Oyster. Janette Turner Hospital is an excellent writer. She brilliantly connected the charcters of the novel with the landscape, the heat .....and especially the silence and the guilt. It all intertwined.
When somebody is interested to read more about the subject (religious cults), I really recommend Shiva Naipaul's (brother of V.S.
I remember reading this around 2000 and thinking it was incredible. I just reread it and it is indeed amazing. Her writing is incredibly beautiful and the story and characters are perfect. However, I was much more disturbed by it this time (cults, destruction, etc.). I only recommend it to for the brave.
The town is quite and the people are hiding something. 'Oyster' is about a town in the middle of the outback, Outer Maroo is so remote it’s not on any maps. So far from anywhere that anything could happen and no-one would know.

This story creeps up on you. Hospital expertly teases by revealing only parts, dropping only hints. As the pieces fall into place, the pace quickens. Religious fanaticism, black-market opals, outback rednecks, fear, heat and isolation combine with fascinating characters an
Alumine Andrew
This is one of Turner Hospital's earliest works. It is a bit less polished than her later works but a great read nonetheless.

This novel is set in the outback of Australia, in a town that seems not to officially exist, which shuns outsiders and where people seem to disappear in huge numbers.

We switch narrators quite often which is disconcerting at first until we learn to recognise the voices of the characters, which took me a while. The town's deterioration begins with the appearance of Oyster,
Celeste Rousselot
A fabulous story by an Australian writer, now professor at the University of South Carolina, about a charismatic religious/con-artist who attracts 100's of youth from around the world to his commune in the Australian outback. The conflicts and interactions among him, his group and the local townspeople could not be described any better. I could feel the heat of the fire, smell the sweat and the fear. What an amazing ride!
May 19, 2012 Albion added it
Shelves: faves
This is an incredible book. The writing itself, both the words and the phrasing, draw you into the mood and slightly threatenting atmosphere of this small, isolated and officially non existent outback town. A literary thriller of the first rate. An amazing meditation on the meaning of belonging and oppression. Totally convincing and chilling.

What a great novel! Turner Hospital's writing style is razor sharp, and she handles the blending of fantasy segments with "real" events, so well. You feel like you're inside of multiple characters' heads, but you don't REALLY know what's happening until the end... very suspenseful, I couldn't put it down!
I have always enjoyed Turner Hospital's writing and this book was no exception. I found myself rereading passages just to soak them in and it was a gripping story to boot. The way she wrote the landscape as the overriding force...
I love this book--it is really beautifully written, though also sad and creepy. I haven't read anything else by her, but I'm guessing I'd like her other books as well.
Joan Winnek
This book is an intense experience, set in an isolated world. At the end, characters speak of "going back to the map," and some of them make it, maybe.
Intense and powerful. Somewhat draining like the heat of the desert. Those curious about cults would like this.
Ruth Bonetti
Loved this! I know well the outback landscapes and feral characters she describes.
Bernadette Robinson
I gave this a 3.5 stars. It was an unsual but interesting read.
Janette Turner Hospital had a happy knack of writing books that examined substantial issues of public concern around the time that major events or moral panics were trending. 'Due Preparations for the Plague' was published a short while before terrorism hit the US in a devastating way. 'Oyster' was published a short time before the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide in the US. Hospital drew on the public concern about the events at Waco, Texas with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, O ...more
This book haunts me, years after reading it. I gave the book away as I thought it the best thing to do at the time, but I've regretted it ever since. No other book I've read has haunted me quite like this one. I can only describe it as a journey underground.
Set in the Australian Outback, with powerfully poetic descriptive passages, it's a sometimes confusing novel that shifts voices & moves back & forth in time to convey a disturbing sense of a separate world gone awry (a sort-of Lord of the Flies sense) without explicitly naming until late in the book what had gone awry in the opal-mining religious community led by a charismatic leader (Oyster). The reader only gradually comes to understand the situation, much as the community's residents ...more
Bizarre, complex and always interesting and often a little surreal. Occasionally it was hard to know who was speaking and just when during the story. It covers many of the typical attitudes found in small, isolated towns - greed, religious dishonesty, self reliant, fear of outsiders and the sense that these communities really are a law unto themselves and can exist without reference to the wider world. The book's portrayal of the Australian outback, which really is an important character in the ...more
Trish Lunt
Currently reminded that this is on my all-time favourites list.
Tossed after a few pages.
Kchalvorson Halvorson
I was interested in reading some fiction set in Queensland, Australia, to perhaps acquire some feel for a part of that state. This novel about opal mining and a dysfunctional, murderous community was a disappointment. The storyline was difficult to follow partly because of the devices used to present the narrative (or maybe the difficulty was a function of my spreading the reading over two weeks). Anyway, I do not recommend the book.
A difficult read, not at all what I expected of this book. An insight into what living in the outback must be like and into cult following, both are very disturbing.
(Janet Turner Hospital wrote part of this book while in the UK at the International Study Centre, Herstmonceux Castle, E. Sussex. I was born and bred in Herstmonceux and my first job was as a Sc.A. at the Castle when it was the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.)
Marga Vr
Oct 21, 2007 Marga Vr rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Hospital
Shelves: shortstories
I read it nine years ago and only remember flashes of it. Powerful stories about people living in a small isolated community, very harsh climate. Because the writer was born and raised in Australia, she knows what it's like to live in a place like that. If I remember right, there was a very bad man who had the power over young people, he turns out to be a sadistic pedophile of first order.
The most tediously boring book that I have ever read. It took me six months to finish it...through sheer determination and irrational hope that it might liven up at some point. If the author intended to show how stupifyingly boring Australian outback towns are supposed to be, then she has succeeded.
Sep 13, 2011 Reb rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: abuse
This was one of the books I had to read during my literature class and I'm not totally sure if I would have done otherwise. At the time I remember thinking how weird it was almost all the way through, and parts of it confused me quite a bit at times. However, I actually really enjoyed reading it.
Apr 11, 2008 Lori added it
This book, barren as its Outback setting, was slowly draining the life out of me.

But I kept thinking the cult part is right around the corner, so I plodded on. Very, very slowly.

Until I gave up.
I read this in English! This is great. A strange cult live underground in the ourback in Oz. lure young backpackers and once there you can never escape...
Couldn't deal with the constant change in timeline. Got through the first 100 pages but didn't hold my interest enough to continue.
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Born in 1942, Janette Turner Hospital grew up on the steamy sub-tropical coast of Australia in the north-eastern state of Queensland. She began her teaching career in remote Queensland high schools, but since her graduate studies she has taught in universities in Australia, Canada, England, France and the United States.

Her first published short story appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (USA) where i
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