The novel opens with Molly and her mother, Violet, standing next to the headstone of Molly’s grandfather, Tom Berry, and the epitaph tells the story of how Molly’s family is cursed. Cursed because her grandfather stole gold from a character named Longcoat Bob.
In reference to the title of the novel, Molly’s mother, Violet tells her that the sky is her best friend. Look to the sky she tells her. It has all the answers.
Unfortunately, Violet is dying and tells Molly that this moment is the last they will spend together before Violet ascends into the sky. Molly’s sadness and grief is slightly assuaged when Violet tells her, in another reference to the title, she will always be there above her in the sky and that she will send gifts. In a terribly sad passage, Violet tells Molly to look at the sky for the first gift. She tells her not to look back and retreats, disappearing from Molly’s life.
When Molly’s eyes begin to water from staring at the sky for so long, she turns to find a box on the grave. A box which contains a copper pan used when panning for gold. The first sky gift.
On the underside of the pan is a cryptic passage,
“The Longer I stand, the shorter I grow, And the water runs to the silver road”
This is followed by a second equally enigmatic passage,
“West where the yellow fork man leads East in the dark when the wool bleeds”
There are more words, the entire underside of the pan seems to be a riddle, or map, and Molly is perplexed but entirely captured with curiosity.
We are then whisked away, ironically into the sky, and introduced to Yukio Miki, a Japanese fighter pilot who is on his way to Pearl Harbor, protecting the bombers and their lethal payload, in his Zero fighter. He carries in his cockpit a sword crafted by his father who was a master at creating swords.
Yukio has lost his wife to an illness we are not told of. He has no passion for the war and invasion and yearns to be reunited with her in the next life. He doesn't know it but he is the second sky gift.
Perspective changes like this abound throughout this novel, with changes occurring regularly. We even get to see the world through the eyes of a crocodile, but this seemed more of a novelty than anything else, not contributing anything to the narrative.
Just like in “Boy Swallows Universe”, Dalton has again gifted the reader with a wonderful protagonist in Molly. She is a joy to read and is the novel's greatest strength.
The Hook family, which now consists of only Molly her father and her uncle, own the Hollow Wood Cemetery. However, I would not advise burying a family member there as the Hook brothers have a tendency to dig down into the graves and rob the occupant of any valuables they were buried with. Gravediggers by day, graverobbers by night.
Molly is terribly mistreated by her Uncle and Father, who are slowly drinking themselves to death. Molly is flogged mercilessly with the razor strop for the slightest indiscretion.
Molly strongly believes in the curse. She believes that it turned her mother’s heart to stone. She feels that her own is slowly solidifying, getting heavier in her chest every day. The only thing to do is to go and meet this Longcoat Bob character and get him to lift the curse.
So, in a nutshell, that is our narrative. Molly going on an adventure through the Northern Territory’s wetlands to find the man who cursed her family and get him to lift the said curse.
There is no doubt that Molly is the star of this novel. She is a wonderful character, and her conversations with Yukio, the downed Japanese fighter pilot, in which she continues to amaze him with Australia’s fauna and flora, are for me the highlights of the novel. The passages where Molly is trying to teach Yukio Australian slang particularly enjoyable and memorable.
There are passages where Yukio is simply stunned with all the wildlife, the insects, the birds, the trees and flowers, that he believes he is in paradise. These passages are beautifully descriptive, almost showing off how stunning and unique our country, with its diverse range of life, can be.
If you are looking for a realistic book, you may find yourself disappointed. This novel, much like “Boy Swallows Universe” is dipped in magical realism. There is a definite feeling of good versus evil, with the characters, almost like archetypes, only enhancing this feeling.
A terribly enjoyable read, that slightly fails to reach the heights of Dalton’s wonderful debut. 4 Stars.
Trent Dalton writes for the award-winning The Weekend Australian Magazine. A former assistant editor of The Courier-Mail, he has won a Walkley, been a four-time winner of the national News Awards Feature Journalist of the Year Award, and was named Queensland Journalist of the Year at the 2011 Clarion Awards for excellence in Queensland media. His writing includes several short and feature-length film screenplays. His latest feature film screenplay, Home, is a love story inspired by his non-fiction collection Detours: Stories from the Street (2011), the culmination of three months immersed in Brisbane's homeless community, the proceeds of which went back to the 20 people featured within its pages. His journalism has twice been nominated for a United Nations of Australia Media Peace Award, and his debut novel Boy Swallows Universe was published in 2018.
He was nominated for a 2010 AFI Best Short Fiction screenplay award for his latest film, Glenn Owen Dodds, starring David Wenham. The film won the prestigious International Prix Canal award at the world's largest short film festival, The Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France. Dalton's debut feature film screenplay, In the Silence, is currently in production.
Trent also hosted the ABC Conversations show while Richard Fidler was on a Churchill Fellowship.
Here is a link to the Booktopia podcast with Dalton talking about the book - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TvbDI5UkPk