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Taboo (Kim Scott, Picador)

Despite a bracingly strange start—a dead narrator speaks of when ‘we lifted ourselves from the riverbed and went back up the hill into town’; a skeleton of wood and stone lurches dizzily from the carriage of an upturned grain truck—Kim Scott’s first novel since his Miles Franklin Award-winning That Deadman Dance too often feels conventional and underworked. The novel centres on Tilly Coolman, a teenager of mixed Noongar and Anglo descent. A survivor of recent grief and abuse, she’s returning to the same Southern WA property where she was briefly fostered as a child by a well-intentioned white wheat farmer and his late wife. The farmstead is a site of trauma: a disputed number of Noongar people were massacred here, many years ago. Dan, the farmer, hopes to open a ‘Peace Park’ on the land to salve the still-suppurating multigenerational and cross-cultural wounds, and a vividly sketched coterie of the land’s traditional owners embark on a road trip to investigate the offer. This is fertile soil for a novelist, and while the book offers several beautiful and tantalisingly expansive passages, I was left wishing Scott had seemed in less of a rush to finish telling his story. Taboo will hold interest to readers of Australian literary fiction, though fans of Scott’s previous novels may be somewhat disappointed by this latest offering.

Gerard Elson is a writer and bookseller who works at Readings St Kilda


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