“To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight.”

Jane Harper, The Dry

Full excerpt:

That’s partly what took city natives like the Whitlam by surprise, Falk thought. The quiet. He could understand them seeking out the idyllic country lifestyle; a lot of people did. The idea had an enticing wholesome glow when it was weighed up from the back of a traffic jam or while crammed into a garden-less apartment. They all had the same visions of breathing fresh clean air and knowing their neighbours. The kids would eat home-grown veggies and learn the value of an honest day’s work.

On arrival, as the empty moving truck disappeared from sight, they gazed around and were always taken aback by the crushing vastness of the open land. The space was the thing that hit them first. There was so much of it. There was enough to drown in. To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight.

These two paragraphs stuck out at me and I read them repeatedly. I could relate very well to the first paragraph as that’s what Jamie and I did for years before finally committing to moving to his parent’s farm in Western Australia. We had moved from one tiny city apartment to another. We did stay three years at a house we rented where the landlord lived next door and we were able to have our own small vegetable patch. We were also married just a few metres from this yard.

The second paragraph though I couldn’t really relate to. It was completely different from my experience moving to the family farm. Perhaps this is attributed to my complete lack of understanding of the farming industry. That and drought not being as horrendous an issue in Western Australia than it is in other parts of the world. We were also moving to a home where there were so many siblings that it was basically like a small community, so there was no chance of us feeling lonely.

Still, I like this passage because it illustrated something that I’ve come to realise is a universal thing–feeling disgruntled and disappointed with city living, civilisation and technological advancement in general. Wanting to escape back to “simpler times”. Hence apocalyptic stories becoming more and more popular–the fantasy of being forced back into nature that most of us don’t have the opportunity to live out.

“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before…”

The Dry by Jane Harper

This was another pick-off-the-shelves-at-the-bookstore book. I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for a while and I can’t say for sure when and where I actually bought it. I suspect it was when we were still living in Sydney, the second time around.

That’s what happens with books you buy, isn’t it? You put off reading them because they are always there. You read the library books and Bookclub books first, because those actually have a deadline. Personally I find I have that attitude with everything else in my life: if I’m sure it’s going to be sticking around, I tend to neglect it for something else that is only temporary.

On to the book. This was another gripping novel for me. I wanted to read it every free moment I had. It obviously had a great hook and there was a double mystery. A double whodunit. And true to a whodunit novel, we were led in various directions through out the novel as the story unfolded and the secrets of a small town came tumbling out.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, I was a bit annoyed at how obvious the writer’s attempt to lead us astray was. When I read these whodunit novels now, I end up comparing them to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. That was a whodunit novel that really had me guessing, but the guiding hand of the author was not so obvious then.

One of my favourite things about this novel was how Harper brought attention to some serious issues faced by Australia by weaving them into an entertaining crime novel. Drought and domestic abuse. I feel that she did this without “preaching” on these issues, which is a method I prefer when I read novels. Perhaps we can attribute this method of story-telling to her journalistic background: report the facts and leave your personal opinions out of it. I like reading authors who can do this as I feel free to formulate my own opinions rather than finding myself hating the dictating voice of the author. A clear example I can think of is The Ballad of Banjo Crossing by Tess Evans, another book I read recently. In Banjo Crossing, I constantly found myself curling my lip at the tone of the author. Some of the beliefs Evans held felt like it was forcefully being crammed down my throat. It annoyed me.

Reading about a farming town in Australia and the fallout from two years of drought made me consider things I have never consider before. The entire town suffers, and not just industry, but everything. The school can run out of money. Doctors and other essential professionals can leave. It’s truly terrifying the effects drought can have on farming towns. I feel humbled learning this from this novel. I like how the drought was made a real villain in this novel.

As for characters–I liked them. I kept seeing the lead agent from Criminal Minds (also named Aaron) as Falk. But this is really only because both are named Aaron and both are federal police. The characters felt real to me.

I would absolutely read another book by Harper. In fact I’ve already looked up the second book in the Falk series.

Re-read material: I would not read this book a second time, mostly because what I found gripping was the plot, and not exactly the language. It was not poorly written, but it’s not poetic, which it obviously doesn’t have to be. I just don’t think there’s much need to re-read a whodunit novel when you already know who’s actually “dun it”.

“Alone, in that monstrous wound, Falk put his face in his hands and, just once, screamed himself.”

Jane Harper, The Dry

Context: Falk, the main character of Harper’s novel, had just come across the remains of a huge river that ran through his hometown. Due to the drought the area was suffering from, the river itself had dried up. This is a pivotal moment for Falk, who had been driven out of town twenty years earlier, has finally come face to face with the suffering of a place (and people) he used to call Home.

This sentence moved me because it really outlined the horrible suffering farming towns of Australia go through. It shows the anguish. It also illustrates the love of a hometown, even after years of absence.