Longlisted for the 2023 Australian Indie Award for Fiction.
Ned, too young to join his brothers off fighting in the war, leads a pretty much solitary existence. When not working on his family’s orchard, he is hunting rabbits, selling their pelts to the army to make into Slouch Hats. He does not really care about the hats; he desperately wants to use the proceeds from his sales to buy a boat. When Ned was five, rumours abounded of a feral whale, destroying every boat and ship in its path. Ned cannot dislodge this whale from his memory, nightmares steal his sleep for weeks. When his father learns of this, he takes Ned and his brothers out in a borrowed boat to prove the waters are safe. Perhaps this is where Ned develops his passion to build a boat. While other characters drop in and out for short appearances, Ned owns the book. He is a character that you admire more than love. He gets the job done. He works tirelessly to buy his boat, and then knowing nothing about sailing proceeds to teach himself. Going to the jetty, examining other boats to learn how to set up his sail. His first sail he is “lost at sea” but he soon learns to read the wind and work the sail all by himself. At times Ned lacks self-confidence, his own worst critic, and yet he achieves much without giving himself credit, part of his charm. After reading, and loving, Arnott’s two previous novels I was suprised to find this one containing no magical realism at all. No talking animals, nothing, nada, zip. It does however contain some wonderful anecdotes, like the time he accidentally traps a quoll in his rabbit trap and nurses it back to health. For those of you who don’t know what a quoll is, this is no mean feat. Google them. Vicious little critters, sadly staring down the barrel of extinction in most areas, their numbers dwindling every day. Arnott’s descriptive writing captures the landscape, the fauna, the flora, vividly. The writing so vivid the reader could not mistake where this novel takes place and reminded me of the beauty of our country. Arnott’s debut novel inspired the same feelings. While the writing is beautiful, the structure takes a little getting used to. The story at first feels as if it is being told in little bite size snippets. As the book progresses the narrative will jump to the present, presenting Ned’s stories as historical anecdotes. It does take a little getting used to, but when you do, it works well, enabling Arnott to fit Ned’s life into the confines of a short novel. Nothing spectacular happens in this novel, but it is a very enjoyable read of a character’s life. It feels like Arnott just wanted to write a realistic story, giving himself a platform to write about nature and the land he obviously loves.
Robbie Arnott was born in Launceston in 1989. His writing has appeared in Island, the Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and the 2017 anthology Seven Stories. He won the 2015 Tasmanian Young Writers’ Fellowship and the 2014 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers. Robbie lives in Hobart and is an advertising copywriter. LIMBERLOST is his third novel.
Here is a video of Arnott talking about his life and writing from the University of Tasmania -
MY RATING -