Repentance (Alison Gibbs, Scribe)
It’s 1976, a time of change and cultural shifts. The town of Repentance perches on the edge of the Great Dividing Range: the old families cut timber and the new people in town, the hippies, have other ideas about saving the trees. Joanne Parmenter’s family runs the local store where she helps out after school. Her mother is dying in the rooms behind the shop and 13-year-old Joanne’s ideas about the world are being challenged. She is drawn to the hippies, and when old and new inevitably rub up against one another Joanne is forced to make some decisions for herself. Alison Gibbs’s debut novel moves like a meditation, reflecting the rhythms of the natural landscape that she writes about so beautifully. There is a gentleness in the telling of this tale, and the writing is deft and poetic. Equal weight is given to both arguments: we sympathise with the hippies wanting to save the trees from destruction, and with Sandy Mitchell, the sawmill owner who employs half the town, and who comes to be perceived as a bad man by many. Repentance will appeal to lovers of literary novels in rural settings, readers who savour language over pace, and appreciators of accomplished and tender storytelling.
Deborah Crabtree is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller.