Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 22, 2015

Locust Girl (2015), by Merlinda Bobis

Locust GirlLocust Girl is such an exciting find, I hardly know where to start…

Bobis has written an astonishing allegory, one that grew, surely, out of those infamous words:   We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

In an unspecified place at an unspecified time in the future, a privileged people police the border to their lush enclave so that the undeserving on the other side must survive in a parody of equality on meagre rations in a drab, futureless environment.  The rulers justify their actions by blaming those on the outside as impure, inferior people who have brought their troubles on themselves.

From this unsettling political premise, Bobis has woven a beautiful, compelling story.  In the dry dust of the desert, the girl Amedea ekes out an existence with her father…

I was nine when the stars went out.  When the sky was taught a lesson that no one should shine or outshine anyone. All must know darkness and light must be rationed equally.  We were warned on the box , a tiny blue square that kept us hoping, kept us on the line.  Our tents were also blue like water and rationed.  We lived in the desert of many tents,  Our halfway homes between heaven and earth, the blue box said, so we should be grateful.  The sun and the wind rippled the blue cloth and we thought, water! And drank up the thought.

I’d just had dinner when the stars went out. Sand porridge and locust.  Good for protein, the blue box said.  The locust crackled between my teeth.  I was in my blue dress, also rationed like the number and letter inscribed just beneath my right ear: 425a in blue ink.  I was the daughter of number 425 living in tent 425, where there was no 425b or c or d.  I was his only daughter and I did not have a mother.

The stars go out because their camp is being bombed in reprisal for some of the men trying to cross the border.  The novel crosses over into magic realism when Amadea then sleeps underground for ten years, and emerges aged 19 in a nine-year-old body, with a locust embedded in her brow.  This locust sings the forbidden.  It tells truths that no one may say.

Blackened and scarred by the fire, the resurrected Amadea emerges into the bleak landscape, re-learning to walk and talk, and coming of age through her encounters with all kinds of people.  Some like Shining Lumi and Karitase are immune to the inertia that defeats most, but her first friend, the beautiful Beenabe, was born brave and curious and is torn between rebellion and wanting a beauty for which she must sacrifice more than she expects.

Amadea’s journey to the border is fraught with horrors.  There is danger, cruelty and fear, but there is triumph too. Locust Girl is a stunning book which I read, all disbelief suspended, with astonished admiration for the way Bobis has used fantasy to humanise the hidden people beyond our borders.

The novel could so easily have slid into didacticism, but is more complex than that.  Fearful containment of The Other distorts the lives of the rulers of the Five Kingdoms, even as it protects them from having to share what is left after the environment has been ruined.   Just-me-uhm worries about how to keep the ill wind from the border while his heart was fluttering uncertainly as if the ill wind was already lurking there.  He can only keep these unsettling thoughts at bay by letting the daily propaganda subsume his doubts about which side of the border he belongs to.  The dedication is for all of us:

For those walking to the border for dear life
And those guarding the border for dear life

Highly recommended.

Author: Merlinda Bobis
Title: Locust Girl, a lovesong
Publisher: Spinifex Press, 2015
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Locust Girl: A Love Song: 2015
Or direct from Spinifex Press, including as an eBook


  1. Definitely reading this one…


    • Yes, I am on a mission to get lots of people to read it! I want to know what others think about it too:)


  2. I have recommended this book to our Book Club, and sent Lisa’s crit of the book to all my friends who belong to Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees. Thank you Lisa.


    • Wonderful! I think this would be such an exciting book to discuss, and your group sounds like a great bunch of people who will get the most out of it.


  3. Sounds like just my kind of thing: thanks!


    • Oh, I suspect I might make mention of this one at Stonnington!


  4. She’s a great writer. I read and reviewed her Fish-hair Woman a few years ago. Impressive – complex, and beautiful. My daughter had heard her speak at the ANU, before I’d ever heard of her, and read one of her books then. She loved it too. Bobis should be known more, and I can see this one being a Christmas gift for someone I know!


    • I think I bought her Solemn Lantern Maker because of your review. I probably should have read that before reviewing this, but you know how it is…


  5. […] Lisa Hill hat Locust Girl von Merlinda Bobis gelesen und für gut befunden. […]


  6. […] Locust Girl, a lovesong, by Merlinda Bobis, Spinifex Press, 2015  (see my review) […]


  7. […] Christina Stead Prize for Fiction: Melinda Bobis’ Locust girl: A love song (I have reviewed her Fish-hair woman, which I loved, but for a review of this novel you can check out Lisa’s of ANZLitLovers) […]


  8. […] how they intersect. Finally, in 2016, the winner was Melinda Bobis’ Locust girl: A lovesong (Lisa’s review). It is an allegory, and Lisa […]


  9. […] 2016 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Locust Girl. A Lovesong, see my review; […]


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