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Limberlost - Book Review

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by Jenny Esots (subscribe)
A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published March 23rd 2023
A book filled with wonder and reverence
Limberlost is the third novel by Tasmanian Author Robbie Arnott. It is a departure in style from his first two novels which were more imaginative and mythical in nature. However, Limberlost retains a sense of the mythic by relating the unknowable but tough quality of the Australian landscape.

Limberlost by Robbie Arnott. Text Publishing
Limberlost by Robbie Arnott. Text Publishing

This is a coming-of-age story of a boy in country Tasmania during the Second World War who lives in an apple orchard named Limberlost. We find Ned struggling to cope with his family, the war and the long summer. Ned hunts rabbits which is related in conflicted detail so he can sell the pelts to earn money to buy a small boat. We hear stories of blood and trauma alongside the joy of sailing along the river. The reader gathers Ned's two brothers are away at war, and there is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness around this. The atmosphere of an emotionally absent father and a withholding sister creates an intense loneliness that shadows Ned's entire life. But his desire for places of solitude and refuge are doomed to remain out of reach.

Author Robbie Arnott
Author Robbie Arnott

The story unfolds and skips back and forth through the years. Childhood events become submerged as Ned has his own children and grandchildren. But do we really change much from our childhood selves? What standouts in this coming-of-age story is not so much the time and place but more the sense of nature and how humans can be so brutal, neglectful and reckless with their natural environment.

Robbie Arnott is a writer at the top of his game and comparisons have been made to Richard Flanagan, Tim Winton, Eva Hornung, Laura Jean McKay, Jane Rawson, and Ceridwen Dovey. I see more of an affinity in writing style with nature writer Inga Simpson. The prose at times is deceptively simple but both these authors are able to outline the personality of the forest, seas, orchards, seasons and animals in words that are never laboured so that the reader feels the mood and colours of the people and landscape.

Limberlost by Robbie Arnott. Text Publishing
Limberlost by Robbie Arnott. Text Publishing

Each thread of the story talks about the power of connection, to place, family and environment and in a counter narrative each of these connections is pulled apart. The story is held together by young Ned who makes a life for himself but has to make some difficult choices, which he never seems able to reconcile. Underneath it all, there is an inability to deal with grief for loved ones, sentient animals and the land itself.

Limberlost is a chronicle of how the big events in history shaped life for Australians who lived on the other side of the world. More particularly how the violence of war is echoed by the violence against nature, which has lasting implications for the original inhabitants of this land and the health and well being of us all.

Awards for Limberlost
Shortlisted, Fiction, Indie Book Awards, 2023
Commended, Fiction, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, 2023
Longlisted, Fiction, Booktopia Favourite Australian Book Award, 2022
Longlisted, Dylan Thomas Prize, United Kingdom, 2023
Longlisted, Best Designed Literary Fiction/Poetry Cover, Australian Book Design Awards, 2023
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Why? Longlisted for the 2023 Australian Indie Award for Fiction.
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