Pick of the week: The Roving Party

| Bendigo Weekly | 16-Jun-2011

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The Roving Party
Rohan Wilson
Allen & Unwin, $27.99

IT has been a fair while since something as memorable as Kate Grenville’s Lilian’s Story (1984) or Andrew McGahan’s Praise (1991) came out of the Vogel’s Award.
It’s almost as if The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko (1993) soured its reputation, although the rise of creative writing courses has also meant a different kind of novel seems to be dominating the under-35 writing scene.
This year’s winner, The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson, is very bold, and a strong piece of writing, but as a story, it is loose and difficult to engage with.
It is set in Tasmania in 1829, and describes a vicious assault on the Aborigines, led by one of the future founders of Melbourne, the ruthless John Batman.
Wilson builds the narrative across several characters, including Black Bill, who was brought up by white colonists and who is fixated on killing the Aboriginal warrior, Manalargena.
It’s a dark project Wilson has taken on, and he has chosen a slow but economical style for the task. The reader is dropped straight into the time and place, abruptly, and this is disorienting.
The Vogel’s judges said it was a “surprisingly beautiful evocation of horror and brutality”: not sure what they mean by beautiful, except that perhaps they are referring to the self-consciously poetic language. – Rosemary Sorensen

Online at www.bendigoweekly.com.au/book-club/ this week’s book news and Top Ten, supplied by Dymocks Bendigo. Join the bookclub, and we’ll send you a book to say welcome: email to bookclub@bendigoweekly.com.au.

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