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Bereft - Book of the Month

by Chris Womersley

1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Quinn, a decorated war veteran, comes back to his home town of Flint, New South Wales, to seek justice for the death of his sister.

As children, Quinn and Sarah Walker had been inseparable. When Sarah was raped and murdered, Quinn was found by his father and uncle with a bloody knife in his hand and the case seemed conclusive. Sixteen-year-old Quinn absconded and it is ten years later when he returns.

Quinn is shell-shocked, disfigured and suffering from mustard gas poisoning – it is “as if the war were still going on in his head”. While he wanders the hills above Flint and as he contemplates his time in the war, the flu raging around him and the death of his beloved Sarah, Quinn comes across Sadie Fox, a twelve year old orphan living a precarious existence in a hidden shack in the bush. He begins a strange friendship with the enigmatic, too worldly-wise Sadie, who dabbles in magic and who seems to know a lot about Quinn and his past. Is this Sarah come to guide him? How much is real and how much his imagining?

Like John Lennon, I don’t believe in magic. But Womersley conveys the tormented mind of Quinn so vividly that the reader can easily picture how, in the vast unknowablility of the Australian bush, the imagination could run riot. Part ghost story, part thriller, BEREFT is an other-worldly and utterly compelling story of grief and loss.

Irene Haynes

Published by Quercus, 264pp

Read our interview with Chris Womersley.

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