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Book review: The Crying Place

The Crying Place is a gripping novel about journeys (internal and external), grief, sadness and stories. The stories we tell stories ourselves, the stories others tell us and the stories we hear from the land around us. The Crying Place is told from the perspective of narrator Saul who says “The desert is a place constructed of stories, every one of them true.”  And the desert really does play a key role in this extraordinary novel. In fact, it is in every way it’s lead character. The journey, on which we travel in Lia Hills’ second novel, is that of Saul and his search for answers following the death of his best friend. It’s a journey that takes us “up the guts” through Central Australia. The journey was actually literally taken by the author and is the culmination of five years’ worth of work. Her knowledge and understanding of the stories of the land upon which this journey travels are clearly evident and the sense of landscape is palpable. Along the way, there are many serendipitous meetings for Saul, and each meeting, each character adds meaning to the journey and yet, bring more questions than they generate answers for Saul.

We follow Saul from Melbourne to a remote central Australian community via Coober Pedy where he meets illuminating travelling companions and possible lovers but no answers. Through his search, we traverse the convergence of Indigenous and non-indigenous culture, and the non-linear journey of grief, grieving and guilt.

The imagery is evocative and just plain stunning, remarkably capturing the essence of life and landscape. The pace of the narrative is languid and relentless, reflective of the wide open, unhurried desert country in which it is mostly set, which is a little frustrating at times, but necessary for the journey. The journey of Saul, of understanding and of self, is overlaid and reflective of Australia’s own journey through understanding of place, and of mutual understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Beautifully written, haunting and compelling, this is a perfect addition to your summer reading.
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