Book Review: Limberlost by Robbie Arnott

Arnott is a Tasmanian author and certainly one to watch. Limberlost is his third novel and the first I’ve read of his work.

This is a coming-of-age novel about fifteen-year-old Ned who lives with his father and sister on their apple orchard in the Tamar Valley. It’s 1943 and his two older brothers away at war, leave a pall of anxiety over the household. Ned keeps himself busy during the summer school holidays with chores and trapping rabbits to sell as skins for hats for the soldiers. Ned is anxious about killing the animals but has a dream to use the money to buy a boat. It’s wartime so he questions his motives and wonders about his selfish dream. With his friend Jackbird, he finds time to fish and swim in the nearby river and lose himself to the imagination of a legendary whale at the mouth of the river. The narrative flips intermittently to Ned as a man who is forever reminded of what happened that summer of ’43.

Firstly, the writing is sublime, and although it’s not a long book (226 pages) each sentence is carefully considered, evoking beauty and feeling for the characters and the landscape. ‘The wind warmed, then died. The sun bit and clawed. Mud hardened into dirt, before falling apart as dust. Sweat crusted onto skin as soon as it leaked free. With no freshness to feed on, the rabbits disappeared.’

Ned is a boy and then a man of few words, lacking confidence to voice what is truly bothering him, always trying to do the right thing hoping for approval from his father, his sister and eventually his absent brothers. ‘He avoided thinking about anything that brought on the sting. The war. The school year that awaited him. The mare. His father. How his father, after he’d read Toby’s letter, had asked Ned if anything had come from Bill. The blank fissure in the old man’s face when Ned had shaken his head.’

Ned is also deeply conflicted by his obsessions and secrets, as his dreams collide with the reality of the failing farm and the absence of his brothers. But it is so beautifully juxtaposed with Ned as an adult bringing joy as he matures to be a caring, loving family man.

This truly is a magical story, beautifully written digging Ned into you, making you care and want the best for him. I predict this one will win a few awards, so go out and buy this new release.

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