Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

The Grass Castle

By Karen Viggers Allen & Unwin, 2015 This is the second novel by Karen Viggers reviewed in these pages. I have not met Karen, but she is the neighbor of my sister-in- law, Philippa, who told me about her remarkable books. She’s an author who deserves wider recognition. As in her previous novel, The Lightkeeper’s Wife, the Australian countryside becomes a character in itself in this book. Most Australians are city folk, but Karen Viggers grew up in the cool, forested mountains. There, she says in her acknowledgements, she roamed freely on her little pony. A veterinarian, she imbues her writing with her unsentimental knowledge of the natural world. The novel starts with the killing of a kangaroo. The animal is hit by a car, but Abby, a graduate student studying the species, must finish it off. This vivid opening scene sets up a theme of the book. Kangaroos lack predators now that aboriginal boomerangs no longer bring them down. The ecological balance in which the hunters held the land is upset and the animals overgraze the land, particularly in a drought. Should they be culled? The interplay between nature and science, between a holistic view of the world and the individualistic one of modern society is explored here through Abby and her friendship with Daphne, an elderly woman. As in The Lightkeeper’s Wife, Karen Viggers creates two central characters, one an older woman, and one a younger person who has trouble with romantic relationships, or with relationships in general. Abby, prickly, lonely, intelligent, is pursued by Cameron, a journalist, but the events of her family life haunt her, and only through Daphne’s loving friendship can she confront them and heal. This is a book that goes far beyond a woman’s individual journey. This is also a book about ideas. Endlessly topical conflicts about animal rights vs. human needs, country vs. city, gun ownership and the right/need to hunt, all these are shown here in dialogue, and the reader wants to join in the conversation. This is a very good book. I look forward to reading more of Karen Vigger’s work.

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