This book was really hard to read, and was not quite as ambitious, is nearly as good, with its depiction of 19th century Australia, up in the undeveloped ‘sticks’ above Brisbane, when that town was little more than a glorified ‘village.’
The author’s nuanced insight into the point of view of each character let us see the profound effects Gemmy had on all the lives of the villagers. The work takes some digging to fully appreciate; then its poetic artistry and structure and purpose become more evident. The key is not to expect the book to read like a conventional novel of cultural conflict. This is more like a prose poem where the details are distilled to essentials, where an entire community is compressed into five or six main individuals, where symbolism expands the meaning and emotional content, where lyrical language stimulates thought, where ambiguity and mystery draw in the reader without giving way to romance. Gemmy, the catalyst for change, is complex and hard to figure: on the one hand he is pathetic, childlike, and vulnerable but on the other he is observant, considerate and spiritual. He brings out the best of those in the village who are open to new experiences and the worst in those who are close-minded and fearful. Also, he touches the reader. This fable will be appreciated by the poetically-inclined and scorned by the literal-minded.