Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 13, 2011

Sensational Snippets: Bright and Distant Shores (2011) by Dominic Smith

Bright and Distant ShoresThere are so many Sensational Snippets in this terrific novel that it’s been hard to choose just one.  Dominic Smith’s third novel has been short-listed for the 2011 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards with good reason: like the best of Dickens, it’s a rollicking tale, an amusing love story and a great book for reflection or discussion because of the moral dilemma at its heart. I’ve chosen this scene, where the indigenous people of Poumeta are being given The Grand Tour of Chicago’s Museum, because it showcases Smith’s writing and his theme.

   …   The party moved through the halls and wings, the deer and bird dioramas, the skeletons of untold heathens, the urns and jewels and chain mail of vanished peoples.  The curator waffled on.  Malini trudged along, hungry and bored.  Argus tried to stay interested but it wasn’t until they reached the weaponry of the South Pacific that he was drawn in.  There behind the glass, labelled with small pieces of typed-up cardboard, were more weapons from Poumeta, just like the ones in Hale Gray’s office.  The clubs, spears, arrows and slingstones had once belonged to his ancestors, to his great-grandfathers, from a time when village boys didn’t go off to the sugar fields or mission houses.  The artistry could be read in the woven beckets for throwing spears, the inlays of white ivory, the child’s club, feathered with egret, that his great grandfather, still a boy, might have used to strike dead bodies to incite bravery, as was the custom back then.  Argus could not place the emotion that coursed through him.  It resisted naming but like chiaroscuro, combined light and dark, regret and revelation all at once.  His dead grandfathers lay in cabinets –  both in the museum and in the skyscraper.  They were moulded into handles, captured in the obsidian flakes that came to a finial point.  These items did not belong to the white men but had they saved them from oblivion? He couldn’t know what was true.  What he did know was that the stories he had heard as a child, of a less complicated time, of generations spent in long hours of storytelling, fashioning the same handicrafts for days, weeks, were all true, just as his father had told him…

Dominic Smith, Bright and Distant Shores, Allen and Unwin 2011, p415

I borrowed Bright and Distant Shores from the library, but I’m going to buy a copy for my father, he’ll love it!

Fishpond: Bright and Distant Shores


  1. Is it a fairly straightforward read Lisa? I’m wondering about my father too … but in the coming months he’ll want books that are good but not too challenging to follow.


    • Sure, Sue. There are no ‘fancy tricks’ in the structure, if that’s what you mean. It follows chronological order, with a very occasional flashback, and it signals the shifts in scenes from the goings-on aboard ship to evets on land clearly with separate chapters. No heavy duty symbols, no obscure allusions, no playing with modernism.
      I think it would make a great book to chat about with your dad (as you will see when I write my review) and it would make a nice one to read aloud too.


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