A review by Nalini Haynes
When One Of Us Hurts is written about a small town in rural Tasmania by an author whose bio implies she doesn’t like living in Tasmania. In the interests of full disclosure: I hated this book so much it took a couple of weeks to get around to writing the review then it sat, neglected, for another month or so. But I figured, even a negative review can be good publicity if the right person reads it, right? Sigh.
TRIGGER WARNING: abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence…
Livvy is an unwanted child who, because plot, stays in Port Brighton without any input from child welfare agencies even after her parents both died. No explanation given. She lives with Johnny, who she considers her brother, and Marie, his mother, who hates her. And Marie clearly has serious mental health issues rendering her incapable of raising a child.
When the story opens, two people recently died. They were Baby Frankie and Sebastian. It’s a laborious process to figure out who they were and to which family the baby belonged. Locals blame Johnny for the deaths for no apparent reason other than he’s an outsider.
Livvy and Marie alternate chapters when telling their story. Within these chapters their narrative slides back and forth between flashbacks and the present. Gradually we learn who and where they are.
There is a strong sense of the gothic in this Tasmanian location, emphasized with the constant presence of crows. Reactions to the crows vary. Livvy, of course, loves the crows because her favorite movie is Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Vuu builds a town that, in some ways, resonates with the Wickerman. Like in All The Animals In That Country, Vuu begins with characters you might like, that might be, in some small way, relatable. By the end of the book, she strips their humanity from them. They are all awful people with no redeeming features. I guess this is a feature of some “Literature” but I prefer characters who have good in with the bad, who strive.
Part of the gothic is Marie’s continual physical abuse of her flat-mate. It was AWFUL. And repeated. It almost seemed that Marie was getting some kind of “therapeutic” benefit or chemical rush from almost killing her flat-mate over and over again. No one noticed the bruises. It was terrifying and triggering.
When One Of Us Hurts is Tasmanian gothic. Other books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen in this genre strongly evoke the real Tasmania. Not so much this one. I don’t like small towns and I left Tasmania in 2000 never to return except for brief holidays. And yet, on behalf of Tasmanians and those living in small towns, this story offends me.
Past the Shallows reminds me strongly of the era I grew up in and the people I knew down the Channel, and their poverty. The Hunter glories in the Tasmanian bush yet features a bleak central character. However, When One Of Us Hurts reflects an aspect or a few aspects of small rural communities. Far from a love letter – perhaps it’s hate mail? – it will appear to the “Literary” set who look down upon those communities. Hopefully no one in those communities will read the book.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Macmillan Australia (Pan Macmillan)
Format: Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Category: Fiction & related items / Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Fiction & related items / Crime & mystery, Fiction & related items / Thriller / suspense