Tony English's Reviews > Whistler's Bones: A Novel of the Australian Frontier

Whistler's Bones by Greg Barron
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it was amazing

In his introductory Author’s Note, Greg Barron describes Whistler’s Bones as “a work of fiction blended with fact”. The principal source of facts about the central character and narrator, Charlie Gaunt, is a series of newspaper articles he wrote as an old man in the 1930s about his experience as a cattle drover in the wilds of northern Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gaunt wrote little about his feelings or his personal life, so Barron speculated intelligently and with empathy to create this round, complex and convincing protagonist. To inform his speculation about Gaunt’s attitudes and behaviour when dealing with Aboriginal and other people in that era, there is much evidence that Barron delved deep into history, geography, and anthropology. The result is an unwavering sense of time, place and character. Gaunt and the other characters, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, gender and likeability, have all become real people to me. On likeability, there is much to like about Gaunt but at least as much to dislike, which is one of the reasons Barron has succeeded in his efforts to create a convincing human being. He presents Gaunt warts-and-all.

To me this novel does not have a plot, which is not a complaint. Rather, Barron has chronicled a hardy man’s development from underprivileged youth to old age, with a focus on the formative, sometimes soul-destroying years of his life as a long-haul cattle drover. Charlie Gaunt’s early learning curve relates to his unrefined, pragmatic grasp of the need for drovers to work with nature instead of trying to conquer it. Gaunt's chronicle moves on and on, like a cattle drive through a beautiful but tough physical environment, which Barron presents as a character in itself. The cattle are also characters, thanks to Barron’s grasp of their individual and herd behaviour. I do not know his intention, but I found the cattle drive to be a metaphor for the ups and downs of life itself. The moral issues are engrossing, and I often wondered what I would have done in the historical and geographical context of Gaunt’s decision-making. The pragmatics of survival under stress were prominent in my thoughts. When I was about thirteen my grandfather, a veteran of the First World War, told me there weren’t many moral philosophers on the Somme.

This is an excellent novel. I enjoy Greg Barron’s smooth and rich writing style. Combined with aspects of content, it brings Larry McMurtry to mind.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 21, 2019 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Lily Malone Wasn't this brilliant! Couldn't agree more.


message 2: by Judy (new)

Judy Hansford Excellent review, thoroughly enjoyed the book myself .


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