Carolyn's Reviews > The Broken Shore

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
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's review
Jun 02, 12

it was amazing
bookshelves: favourites
Read from May 26 to June 02, 2012

I don't know how I have been unaware of Peter Temple until now. This is one of the most engaging works of modern Australian fiction of any genre that I have read for a long time.
Basically, it is a detective story, where a homicide detective, Cashin, who is on sick leave in his home town, becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a prominent local citizen. He has doubts about the guilt of the first "who dunnits" - three boys from the local Aboriginal community - and sets out to uncover the truth, despite the opposition of the local police. Sound familiar?

Wrong. There is absolutely nothing superficial about this novel in terms of themes, plot, characterisation or realisation. This book, a winner of the 2007 Duncan Lawrence Dagger Prize, and at least four others, has far more to it than a standard police procedural or crime thriller. For a start, its big themes of police corruption, child abuse, environmental destruction, complex Aboriginal issues, rural culture, social tensions and even personal and family relations are examined in an almost forensic way. It is no surprise that Temple was a journalist: he deals with these realities with as much authority and depth as any op.ed. writer would, but in a far more emotionally engaging manner.

The best books are true to their cultural and geographical setting. Here, South West Victoria is depicted so accurately with its freezing rain, remnant volcanic landforms and Antarctic winds. The culture is presented warts and all, with its underlying and even overt racism, self interest and parochialism. The characters, especially Cashin, are laconic, ironic and are more likely to express their feelings in action rather than words. Temple has taken some universal themes, mentioned in the previous paragraph, and centred them in a specific milieu.

There are very few false notes in this book. It may not be Book of the Year as far as the Australian Tourist Board is concerned, but its sparse, precise prose, well-paced plot and understanding of the realities of disturbing issues make it an outstanding example of good fiction - anywhere.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Dagný I'm looking forward to reading this book!

Carolyn I will value your opinions of this book as a person who is unfamiliar with Australia. It doesn't place
Australia in a flattering light, but examines that dark underbelly common to all societies in one form or another.
I lived in coastal Victoria for a couple of years in the 70's and can vouch for the weather described in the book, which is why visiting Iceland in January isn't a problem. At least there one sometimes has lovely powder snow to enjoy!
The follow up book to this is called 'Truth" and I can't wait to read it. It won the Miles Franklin Award (our equivalent of the Booker), plus a heap of others including the German prize for best foreign crime. And it's about bushfires, our recurrent national disaster, which as a Californian resident you would be familiar with.

Dagný I got it today on my Kindle. (I´m still in the middle of another book, but this one comes next)

"Coastal Victoria"! To the Atlas I go, wiser to the weather.

BTW we're going to Australia in a year, only to a convention in Sidney, but it is time to tune towards there. Before going to Japan, a few years ago, I read several Japanese authors.

The crime angle on places or people might threaten to overshadow what is lovely about them. Interesting how novelist use aberrations, crime, to get to a place and its people. They tell a story, but only when this is done with skill and and sensitivity does the story succeed and become true in the way you articulate above, or else the story is generic and general. I'm thinking of Tony Hillerman´s New Mexico/Navajo stories, which, like Arnaldur Indriðason's Icelandic ones, reach the true through the specific, local and unique. We become story-tourists, but perhaps some unique insight, sympathy, admiration or curiosity, carries over to our real life touring. Before I moved to New Mexico -I had never been there and I dreaded going- I read Hillerman and somehow began loving New Mexico.

Carolyn Hey, that's great that you're coming to Sydney! It's a very photogenic city with its harbour, the harbour bridge and the opera house (designed by a Danish architect, like Harpa). Many of us regard Sydney as more like an American city, while Melbourne, about 1,000 kms to the south, is more European. What time of year will you be there? It's on the same latitude, approx., as Irvine, but is far more humid. But, no Antarctic winds!
I really must try to get hold of Tony Hillerman's NM stories: you've mentioned him before, as authors who faithfully depict a sense of place add such pleasure to a reading experience. It doesn't always have to describe a pleasant one either. One of my all-time favourite short stories was "To build a fire" by Jack London, set in the Yukon. It has the most powerful description of intense cold that I have ever read.
I will fossick round and send some titles that may enhance your Australian experience. Do you like short stories and poetry as well?
I hope you will have time to see a few sights. There's Sydney's famous beaches (not a patch on ours in Esperance though), and the Blue Mountains, only about an hour's drive inland. Trouble is in Australia though, it's so vast: eg: if you wanted to visit me, I am 4,000kms from Sydney. This 'tyranny of distance' also applies to Australian literature, as there are so many different possible settings, as there are in America.

Dagný (OK. numero uno lesson in Australian English: fossick.) Thanks for offering to fossick round for me (the computer underlines fossick with red)

Yes, short stories, but I confess to a failing in my English education; I'm not into poetry in this language as much as in my native one; I just don't feel at home in it. I have favorite poets that I have accessed in English translation, such as Wislawa Szymborska.
(Plus somehow I missed "To build a fire", back in the days when S and I worked ourselves through all the great English classics; now I'll read that too.)

Hey, I read Oscar and Lucinda!

Australia is vast.

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