Bonnie Brody's Reviews > Bereft

Bereft by Chris Womersley
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Mar 12, 2012

really liked it
Read from March 12 to 13, 2012

Bereft: a novel by Chris Womersley is a literary thriller with gothic undertones. It takes place in a the small town of Flint, Australia just following World War I's ending in 1919. The flu epidemic is killing off the people like flies and those that survived the war now have influenza to contend with.

Quinn Walker has survived the war with part of his jaw missing from a shrapnel wound and a serious case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has returned to Flint where his sister was killed many years ago. Quinn was found standing over his sister's body with a knife in his hand and ran from the scene of the crime without explanation. He took various jobs around Australia and then was conscripted into the army. The people of Flint believe he murdered his beloved sister, Sarah. Quinn returns to Flint for unknown reasons, but one pressing cause is that he wants to see his mother before she dies and he wants to right what happened to his sister. His mother is sick with influenza. First the war and now influenza. "As if the war were not enough for the world to endure." Quinn knows that if his father, Nathaniel, or his uncle Robert see him, they will kill him for the murder of Sarah. Quinn knows who the real murderer is and he is torn between wanting to avenge his sister's death and leaving town.

Every day Quinn stealthily visits his dying mother and reads to her. She thought Quinn had died in the war because she received a telegram telling her that he was dead. He talks to her about his experiences but "there were no words to convey the horror of what he saw during the war or, rather, that to describe it would require every word of the language, all of them at once, until they no longer made sense."

Once in Flint, Quinn meets up with an eerie and magical little girl named Sadie Fox who is about eleven years old. They each care for the other and become like sister and brother. Sadie has lost her mother to influenza and her father ran away before she was born. She has been waiting for her brother Thomas to return from the war but it's been months since the war ended and Quinn believes that Thomas is likely dead. Sadie's mother had been known for her magic and Sadie has learned a lot from her. She casts spells and hears what others don't in the forest and the animals that inhabit it.

Quinn grapples with the moral ambiguities of his life and, as his relationship with Sadie deepens, she wants him to kill Sarah's real killers. While Quinn feels like a coward for not taking action on the day his sister was killed, he questions the moral impact of revenge. He wants to right things but can they ever be made right? This is a dark and interesting novel, one that holds the reader's interest throughout. It reminded me a bit of some of the work of Joyce Carol Oates, an author whose writing I love. If you like dark, psychological thrillers, this may be the book for you.
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03/12/2012 page 60
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