Friday, December 5, 2014

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

The White Earth
by Andrew McGahan
2004
***
3 stars - uneven
ALR Blue


Well, yes and no. How can you not like the classic tale of a youngster (in this case an eight year old boy) who falls on hard times and is forced to live with a mysterious and heretofore unknown relative?

Thus we have young William. William and his parents are barely getting by on a farm in Australia when his father is killed in a sudden brush fire. Before you know it, his mother (who is plagued by mental illness) packs up and they are moving in with William's great-uncle, John McIvor.

Uncle John is appropriately gruff, secretive, and mysterious. He lives on the sprawling Kuran Station estate, a once grand farm, now in ruins. In fact the majestic house is so tattered that the second floor is entirely off limits, lest somebody fall through the rotting floors and land unceremoniously downstairs. The house also comes with a fossilized old housekeeper who lurks in corners and generally scares everybody. 

Of course William's mom has a bit of an agenda. She knows that Uncle John is obsessed with restoring Kuran Station to its original splendor and that he is seeking an heir. If she can just convince him that William is the son he never had, all will be right as rain.

Or will it?

It's an odd book. It plods along at a leisurely pace for the first half and is bursting with delightful descriptions of the Australian landscape and the Kuran estate. There are chapters that trace old John McIvor's life so that the reader sees how he came to be the man he is and what Kuran means to him. But about mid-way, the book gets a bit ugly, a bit frenetic, and more than a bit political. Some pretty odd stuff goes down and I found myself thinking I was trapped in a Carlos Castaneda novel. 

Sill in all, a good read, although it did put me off Australia a bit as the climate seemed unendurable.

As a bonus, the edition my library sent me came with a book review from the local paper tucked into it. Total score, right? Two more books to add to my queue.



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