Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 24, 2015

Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley #BookReview

Coming RainStephen Daisley’s second novel, Coming Rain, is a brutal book in many ways; it’s grounded in the harsh reality of harsh country and the harsh people who live in it.

Just recently there has been an animal welfare campaign featuring shocking injuries done to sheep being shorn.  It’s drawn a swift response from rural communities claiming that sheep are too valuable to be damaged in the way that’s depicted.  The truth probably lies somewhere in between – after all, despite her best efforts, a hairdresser occasionally accidentally cuts a child who won’t keep still.  Perhaps it’s inevitable with very sharp scissors and uncooperative wriggling children.  The difference, I suppose, is that a hairdresser can’t do whatever it takes to keep a kid still.  Still, Daisley’s depiction of what it can take to keep a sheep still, isn’t pretty.  This author’s bio includes working on sheep and cattle stations so presumably he writes from experience.  (But there’s nothing in the novel to suggest that what he depicts is universal practice, or contemporary practice either.  The novel is set in the middle of last century, if Wikipedia is right about the date that Evening Peal won the Melbourne Cup.  Let’s not have any arguments about livestock welfare here, ok?)

There are two narratives in Coming Rain.  There’s the story of Lew McCleod and his substitute father Painter taking seasonal work on a WA sheep station; and there’s the story of a pregnant dingo encroaching into human territory.  They’re not parallel narratives though they seem so for much of the book: farmers don’t muck about when it comes to dingoes raiding their stock.   Yet there is a tenderness about the way Daisley brings this dingo to life:

The dingo stood and felt the giddiness, the ground whirling before her.  She waited until it stopped.  Took three steps, again waited.  She needed to hunt and this need was as great as that to mate and to suckle; it was if she breathed.  Without glancing back at the young dog she put her nose to the ground and at first walked, then trotted into the long yellow grass.  Soon she was invisible.

As her mother had taught her to hunt she now hunted.  Mostly it was patience and listening. Stilling to become as the moving land, the earth, the smoke bush.  Yate trees and gimlet, salmon gums, ghost and white gums wandoo.  The hushing of her heart and quiet breathing and to wait and then to attack.  Nothing else.  It was nearly dark, but not to her.  (p. 137)

The scene where she nurses the injured dog from the yate valley clan, an impossible and dangerous confederation, hated to death by her and those of her remembered pack is beautiful.  An insight into animal behaviour that’s more real than any of those cute and sentimental videos that litter Facebook these days.

There is also a simplicity about the dingo narrative that contrasts painfully with the complex narrative of the humans.  For the dingo, survival in the harsh environment is elemental.  Companionship for a pack animal transcends old rivalries.  But the long-standing relationship of Lew and Painter is tested when Lew finds a woman that he loves, and the relationship between father and daughter shows just how claims to patriarchal ownership of a woman’s destiny can masquerade as love.

It is brilliantly done.  As with Traitor which won the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and the NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing (see my review) Daisley’s prose draws both beauty and brutality.  And there is real mastery in the way this author sets a scene: Here is Lew trespassing from the shearers’ shed into a class in which he does not belong:

Threads of the rainstorm hung in the air the next morning and a double rainbow formed to the west.  The brilliant arcs began to widen and fade and after a few minutes both of them had gone.

Lew had risen early, showered and dressed.  He watched the rainbows from the kitchen window and drank tea.  Ate toast and Jimmy’s cumquat jam for breakfast and looked at his watch three times before he left.

The old homestead was built of local honey-coloured stone and the hardwood timber jarra-djarraly. The stones had been taken from the Daybreak Springs formations.  Lime masonry cement mixed in a dry creek bed near the house.  The roof was of terracotta tiles, the old Cordoba thigh tiles carted up from Fremantle docks.  Took two weeks.  Bullock carts then, camels too sometimes in the summer, they said.

As he approached the house, he could see the wide, dark verandas with canvas deck chairs and old tables.  Pile of books and the pages of abandoned newspapers lifting in the breeze.  Iron filigree: circle and star, fleurs-de-lis, lathe-finished veranda posts and dressed lintels.  Five palm trees in a row and green lawns.

Along the west wall, windows large and low enough for a man to step into and out of.  Akubra hats, an oilskin Driza-bone coat and two coiled stockwhips hanging from hooks next to a door.  There was a snaffle bridle and below that a stockhorse saddle. Four tennis racquets on another set of hooks against the ancient honey stones.  Wisteria vines coming into full summer leaf and shivering, they had claimed a southern hip and an ancient jacaranda in the front yard, startling against the blue sky, the mauve November flowers. Some had fallen onto the red gravel driveway.  (p. 172)

You can smell John Drysdale’s  old money, can’t you?  Daisley demolishes the myth of Australian egalitarianism in this novel, but he also evokes a new world where the old certainties have to give way.  Chinese Jimmy is a deft piece of characterisation: like that of the other characters his dialogue is terse, but the racist mockery is undeserved.  If there is a hero in this novel it might be Jimmy…

There is graphic violence in Coming Rain but there is also deep respect for the Australian bush, its people and the work they do in the harsh environment.  The occasional use of indigenous language pays homage to the dispossessed, though one character’s flip comment about shooting dingoes is a visceral reminder that nothing in this landscape was relinquished without brutality.  This is a novel to make you think, and wonder about a world that few of us will ever know …

Amanda Curtin interviewed Stephen Daisley at Looking Up, Looking Down, and there are two of Stephen’s favourite passages there too.

Author: Stephen Daisley
Title: Coming Rain
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2015
ISBN: 9781922182029
Review copy courtesy of Text Publishing

Availability

Fishpond: Coming Rain
Or direct from Text and good bookshops everywhere.

 

 

 

 


Responses

  1. This sounds fascinating, and it was completely off my radar before reading your review. As a reader, is the brutality too much to bear though, or worth it?

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  2. This is a brutal novel, as you say Lisa. I nearly gave up on it, so cruel in parts. I don’t doubt the authenticity of the harshness of the time and people. I didn’t think the romance between Lew and Anna was believable. However, I would recommend it.

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    • Well, I think Deasley has a valid point to make about the environment being a brutal experience for people on the land. I myself hold strong views about the animal welfare aspects of farming on marginal land: I think it’s morally wrong to raise livestock when knowledge of weather patterns not to mention climate change means that it can be predicted that animals will suffer every few years or so.
      But that is how farming is in this country. I say well done to Daisley for telling it like it is.

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  3. Hello Lisa, After reading Daisley’s Traitor, I was keen to read his next effort.
    So very different! I had to read it twice to really appreciate what he was saying, and yes, Brutal is an apt description. I expect the author had his reasons for going in so hard with the language and graphic descriptions of trauma, to human and animal alike. One who has never worked in these conditions wouldn’t have any idea that what Daisley writes, is spot on! I would like to recommend this book for our Book Club next year, but a friend (to whom I loaned the book) stated that, “..of course it’s not really suitable for Book Club”…WHAT! I thought. So, guess who is presenting it to Book Club next year….? My friend is conservative and quiet. Do you have any thoughts on the Book Club airing? How can I present it so that the readers will be somewhat prepared for the earthiness of the content and language? (I cannot find on the web any Book Club references for ideas). I have been following this site for years Lisa, but have not written any thoughts before. I have no hesitation in recommending Coming Rain …. the characters human and animal, are the Australian Outback to the core. Daisley has great powers of observation and has ‘been there’ possibly in some instances. He speaks in the prologue of having trouble in 2011 and thanks some people for their help).

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  4. Hello Leslie, and thank you for sharing your dilemma here. It is indeed a tricky one. Daisley’s book is confronting, but like you, I think it’s worthwhile, and more than that, reading it is a way of fronting up to a reality that we tend not to think about. I reckon any book group that scheduled it would have a wonderful discussion and get a lot out of it.
    I’ve just checked the Text website, and you are right, there aren’t any book group Qs there, but I have some general all purpose ones at home that I can email to you, perhaps with some adapting they might be useful. (I’m in Bendigo tonight for the Bendigo Writers Festival tomorrow.) (Please comment back here if you want them so that I don’t forget to do it when I get back home.)
    As for how to ‘sell’ the book and overcome any adverse reactions, I’m thinking that maybe finding some of the more tender passages and highlighting them before people start to read might help? There are also some review quotations on the Text website that you could use to encourage interest as well?
    https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/coming-rain

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    • Hello and thank you Lisa. Yes, I will go to Text publishing to look at the review website for those quotations. Thank you for the link and the idea to use those quotes to generate interest. in meaningful discussion.

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  5. […] Anna Smaill (Hodder & Stoughton) See my review Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing) See my review The Invisible Mile by David Coventry (Victoria University Press) The Legend of Winstone Blackhat by […]

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  6. […] Grace (Penguin Random House) See my review Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing) See my review The Invisible Mile by David Coventry (Victoria University Press) Illustrated Non […]

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  7. […] Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley, see my review […]

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    • Thank you so much Lisa for the previous three posts on finding
      other reviews of Coming Rain…..much appreciated. If you like,
      when I do present this book at our book club, I could report back
      on what a conservative group thought of it….Mmmm

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  8. […] Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley, Text Publishing, see my review […]

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  9. […] Stephen Daisley, Coming Rain, see my review […]

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  10. […] Lisa at ANZLL who is far more to be trusted than I am, liked it (here) […]

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