THE SWAN BOOK by Alexis Wright


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A severely damaged girl embodies the soul of the Australian continent in Wright’s searing dystopian novel.

Wright (Carpenteria, 2010, etc.) plunges the reader directly into the chaotic world of the lost Aboriginal teen her eccentric rescuer names Oblivia Ethelyne. Rendered mute by the traumatic experience of a gang rape, Oblivia is hiding in the “deep underground bowel of a giant eucalyptus tree” when old Bella Donna, herself an escapee from a northern Europe now devastated by climate change, finds her and takes her to live in an abandoned ship floating on a polluted swamp inside a detention camp for Aboriginals. Here the heroine makes friends with the black swans of the swamp before she is taken away by brutal “boy genius” Warren Finch, who is about to become “the head of state of a dilapidated country in a dilapidated world.” After a grueling journey across the desert to a “skewed dream of a city” in southern Australia, Warren locks up his new bride like a princess in a castle while he travels around with a look-alike “television wife,” leaving Oblivia to consort with ghosts, rats, and a lice-ridden old snow monkey while she does her best to liberate the swans that have faithfully stuck with her and bring them home. In this nearly dialogue-free novel, the author pays little attention to character development, instead creating an impressionistic vision of a near future where humanity has nearly destroyed the natural world. While the relatively simple story could be told more concisely, and Wright’s use of language can be more exuberant than precise, Oblivia’s epic journey provides a strong thread to draw the reader through a sometimes-cluttered verbal landscape.

Readers up to the challenge may enjoy puzzling through Wright’s intricate, imperfectly explained mythology, while others may find the narrative obstacles thrown up along the way too much bother.

Pub Date: June 28th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2478-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2016


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