The Crying Place…
A stunning literary debut that takes the reader into the mysteries and truths that lie at the heart of our country.
In the rear vision, the road was golden and straight and even, its length making sense of the sky, of the vast black cloud that was set to engulf it. I pulled over and got out. Stared at it, this gleaming snake – where I’d been, where it was going. The route that Jed had once taken.
After years of travelling, Saul is trying to settle down. But one night he receives the devastating news of the death of his oldest friend, Jed, recently returned from working in a remote Aboriginal community. Saul’s discovery in Jed’s belongings of a photo of a woman convinces him that she may hold the answers to Jed’s fate. So he heads out on a journey into the heart of the Australian desert to find the truth, setting in motion a powerful story about the landscapes that shape us and the ghosts that lay their claim.
The Crying Place is a haunting, luminous novel about love, country, and the varied ways in which we grieve. In its unflinching portrayal of the borderlands where worlds come together, and the past and present overlap, it speaks of the places and moments that bind us. The myths that draw us in. And, ultimately, the ways in which we find our way home.
When I first started reading The Crying Place, it didn’t grab me. I found it slow, slightly obscure; it didn’t seem to say what it meant outright and I felt I had to work at understanding it a little too much for after work at the end of a busy evening. Yet I persevered, partly because I still find it difficult to abandon any book, but also because I had a feeling that if I didn’t stick with it, I would regret it. There was something there, a slow build, just out of my reach.
The first one hundred pages have you feeling like you’re on the verge of something important, it’s just unclear as to what that important thing is. From that point on though, I found myself slipping into the story, it’s slow pace now welcoming instead of impeding, allowing me to fully appreciate what was going on instead of wondering why it wasn’t hurrying up. It’s a truly moving novel, the kind of story that haunts you and creates a feeling of deep unease within your psyche.
Anecdotes are sprinkled throughout, casually woven into the story in a manner that was quite skilled and added to my overall enjoyment of the novel. However, these anecdotes were also at times distressing, both in their casual delivery and the weight of what they truly meant. History, when reflected upon in a casual manner, can often be cruel like that. A single statement can leave you feeling bereft, completely disturbed and haunted by the bigger picture that single statement eludes to. I felt this many times throughout The Crying Place. The contemplation it wrought within me was quite profound.
I found myself becoming quite invested in Saul, the main character, and his journey. Possessed with a strong sense of honour and a willing appreciation for other’s cultures, I liked him a lot. His journey into the outback was somewhat nostalgic for me, having undertaken a similar trip to Uluru, just coming from a different state and consequently driving in a different direction. I think it was this, coupled with presently living in a remote community with a high population of indigenous Australians, which aided in my appreciation of The Crying Place. I was in a unique position to fully contemplate the themes within the novel without being removed from them on account of living in a metropolis. Even so, many things I thought I understood about Aboriginal culture turned out to be not the case, and I now feel richer for the newfound knowledge, yet also profoundly saddened by a situation that is essentially of our own making. The importance of allowing people to preserve and practice their own cultures cannot be overstated. To take away a person’s culture is to strip them bare, eliminate their essence. The ripple effect of destroying a culture is profound and everlasting.
I feel quite weighted down by this novel, but I also feel glad for that. I think it would do all of us some good to feel the weight of truth and history, to see instead of look, and to fully understand who we all are within our own cultures. Grief and loss are universal, but how we each handle them differs and I commend Lia Hills on her examination of this in such a sensitive and illuminating manner.
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin who provided me with an advanced copy of The Crying Place for review.
The Crying Place is book 14 of my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.