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3.75  ·  Rating details ·  485 ratings  ·  61 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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Average rating 3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  485 ratings  ·  61 reviews

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Nancy Oakes
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Setting: Queensland, Australia; 1990s-2000. In the isolated and insular opal mining town of Outer Maroo in outback Queensland (population 87), strangers are not welcome - indeed, the town has managed, by fair means and foul, to keep itself off the radar of Government and doesn't even appear on any maps. Even within the community itself, there are internal frictions between the opal miners, cattle and sheep ranchers and church-going fundamentalists - but they all band together when facing outside ...more
Johanna Kurz
Jul 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub-books
Chilling and evocative. I have a few quibbles with the organization and I wouldn't say that Turner Hospital's writing is always elegant, but it certainly is effective. Often a real page-turner, although sometimes gets in its own way, and slows the pace with unnecessary repetition (see organization quibbles). Could have been tightened up a bit, and feels about 50-100 pages too long. The author does a fine job describing the environment of the Australian Outback, and provides a creeping sense of s ...more
Aug 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 19, 2012 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.

Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Hospital has drawn some very compelling characters and created a great deal of tension in this book. What happens to an isolated community comprised, for the most part, of people who have secrets and want to keep them? The reader is led to delve into several secrets and to discover a place where evil is very much alive and active.
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book knows what a good build-up is. It moves slowly, spreading the hot, scorching atmosphere of a lost little town way in the outback of Australia. Something seems to have happened, something that pervades the very structure of life there, but for the longest time the novel keeps the truth to itself, only reveiling bits and pieces. Outer Maroo is weird, and something isn't right. But nobody is talking about it, and therefore the reader is suspended in an seemingly breathless state.

Bit by bi
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
This was a difficult book at the start, and it took a while for me to find my way, but once I did, I became caught up in the story right to the end. The story is told in fragmented pieces that made it hard to follow at times, and it was a difficult read at times, but I'm so glad I read it. It is an amazing story that pulls you into the pages and doesn't let you will never forget it. Such interesting characters, but the main character is the landscape of the Australian outback. The autho ...more
★★★☆☆ | 3.5 Stars

This is a difficult book for me to review. On the one hand, there is a wonderfully diverse set of characters and exceptional plot. On the other, the writing style veers into purple prose territory far too often. Whilst no doubt Turner Hospital is a talented writer, I feel like some of her metaphors turned into long-winded tangents that got in the way of the plot. They would sometimes go on for pages and I would forget what was happening. A shame because the story itself is reall
Cylia Kamp
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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! ...more
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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... ...more
Joan Winnek
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Intense and powerful. Somewhat draining like the heat of the desert. Those curious about cults would like this.
Rebecca Aronson
Aug 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Ruth Bonetti
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Loved this! I know well the outback landscapes and feral characters she describes.
Bernadette Robinson
Mar 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: unusual
I gave this a 3.5 stars. It was an unsual but interesting read.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Haunting and dark pit in your stomach generalized anxiety to be expected in this graveyard fiction. From the get go I had one of those this is going to get ugly, really ugly feelings. I would suggest you slow way down if you tend to be a rapid reader. Sit for awhile in Mercy’s delusional thoughts. It’s really much of what she has to survive and protect others. Or try to. She craves touch and it seems to be interchangeable as far as the potential source. Look up at your ceiling for a moment. Do y ...more
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that stayed in my head; I often reread passages and sometimes whole chapters, forcing myself to be patient, to allow time for understanding to come and for the characters to build. It is a complex plot that moves around in time and uses text that is cluttered with personal recollections and innuendo, as well as carefully placed biblical verses, literary excerpts, historical recounts, artistic references and graphic landscape descriptions. It took me a good while to fin ...more
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
"One person's end-of-the-world cataclysm is another person's footnote, Mercy. Take the Armageddon that began in 1788. We are only just beginning to know chapter and verse on that."

Dark and foreboding, this book was intense to read and made me take my time with it. There is a real sense of dread right from the first chapter, and then as the story unfolds you gain a sense of what this small town, not on even government maps, is trying to hide. But the full details reveal themselves slowly, and non
Amanda Gibson
Nov 20, 2018 rated it liked it
I kept turning the pages, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. The syntax was soothing in juxtaposition to the story’s conflict and tough-to-crack characters. But it seemed that Hospital danced around some plot points for too long, leaving me eager to drink up every bit of clarity the story provided when it came, as if I myself were immersed in the old Fuckatoo and in search of relief. I give one star because I finished the book, two because I did end up recommending it to my dad who eats up myster ...more
When I first read this book I was most impressed with the beauty of Ms Turner Hospital’s writing and the way she evokes the feel of a tiny, isolated settlement in the Queensland outback with its red earth, gum trees, heat, dust and rugged characters.

The second time around I could still appreciate the beauty of the language for a while but slowly I was getting tired of the endless and often repetitive metaphors and similes (the “old Fuckatoo roosting again” is mentioned about 500 times) and in th
Christina’s Word
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Aussie outback. Two strangers reach Outer Maroo, Population 87, searching for a stepdaughter and son who have mysteriously disappeared. There is a heavy, guilty feeling to the hot, parched-dry town. Here two opposing cultures — the rough-diamond, boozing, fiercely individualistic bush folk and the teetotaller, church-going fundamentalists — used to coexist peaceably. Until the arrival of the cult messiah Oyster.
Bronwen Griffiths
I read this book when it was first published and I am happy to say that time has not tarnished it. This is a powerful book about the way we can all be manipulated by others. The writing, narrative and characters are all strong and the author's descriptions of the outback are as wondrous as the opals that feature in the book. Recommended. ...more
Tracy Dawson
Apr 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Amazing story set in remote QLD. Although quite a few years old, Oyster is so current in it's depiction of Colonialism and the treatment of indigenous Australians; cults; child abuse; and misogyny. Hard to put down, the weight of the trauma underpinning the story is lightened by the bravery of individual characters. ...more
Jessica Lourigan
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very unique and intriguing the Australian outback setting and the cast of eerie and gritty characters. Somewhat confusing as the story jumps here and there but kept me holding on until the end. It’s hard to describe this one...just give it a go!
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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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