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Book review: Taboo

taboo
Kim Scott, two times winner of the Miles Franklin Literary award latest is both brutal and mysterious in equal measure.

 It is at times fragmented in its narrative, perhaps a reflection of the recollections and tumultuous histories of its protagonists but it does serve to make flow for the reader somewhat difficult at times. Perhaps this is the novel’s intent – it’s subject matter is deserving of reflection and contemplation.

Taboo takes place in the present day, in the rural South-West of Western Australia, and tells the story of a group of Noongar people who revisit, for the first time in many decades, a taboo place: the site of a massacre that followed the assassination, by these Noongar's descendants, of a white man who had stolen a black woman. They come at the invitation of Dan Horton, the elderly owner of the farm on which the massacres unfolded. He hopes that by hosting the group he will satisfy his wife's dying wishes and cleanse some moral stain from the ground on which he and his family have lived for generations.

Taboo as a theme is very much at the heart of the novel – but it has multiple meanings in different contexts. There is taboo on telling the truths of Australian history – almost nobody wants to think about the massacre. Taboo on innocence (and childhood lost) particularly around the journey of one of the main character’s Tilly,  of the very country itself, and of the sins of the past that still resonate.

But there are many other themes that run like a winding river through the novel – the meaning of family, connection to country, justice, survival and renewal to name a few. This work is inherently complex, thoughtful and deeply respectful of truths of the past. It is as much poetry as it is prose, and the narrative is beautifully adorned with imagery that often transcends the brutality it at times portrays.

This work further consolidates Kim Scott as a master storyteller and one of the great Australian writers of our time.

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