The Last Garden (Eva Hornung, Text)
Eva Hornung won the PM’s Literary Award for Fiction for her 2009 novel Dog Boy. In The Last Garden, she once again explores the frailties of humans and the strength of animals. The ‘garden’ is a settlement founded by people who expect the return of the Messiah, but increasingly feel they have been waiting too long. When Matthias Orion shoots first his wife and then himself, their teenage son Benedict is the one to find the bodies. His reaction is to move into the barn with the horses and chickens, exiling himself and sending ripples of unrest through the community. Pastor Helfgott watches over the boy, expecting him to return to ‘normal’. However, as the seasons change, Benedict’s behaviour becomes more like that of his animal companions, and Helfgott starts to question his own moral and philosophical tenets. Set in a world that’s not quite past, yet not quite future, The Last Garden is vivid, visceral and disconcerting. The descriptions of animals are intensely empathetic, and the book raises fundamental and confronting questions about how our animal and our human selves can or should co-exist. Some of the religious sermons and ecclesiastical references can feel obscure, but perhaps that’s a deliberate challenge from an author so strikingly self-assured. This is an idiosyncratic book that also recalls Michael Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things and John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. It will be much discussed by fans of literary fiction.
Hilary Simmons is a former assistant editor at Books+Publishing and a freelance writer and editor