Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 11, 2018

Little Gods (2018), by Jenny Ackland

Sunday morning and the sun rose on the bleached Mallee landscape and lit the distressed greens and greys.  The magpies carolled before they left their trees to feed and the farmhouse began to stir.  Grace was at the back door knocking on the glass.  She had been under Rue’s sprinkler and as she sat on Olive’s lap, her feathers looked like they been sewn with dozens of tiny diamonds. Drops of water, sitting in perfectly round jewels.  (p.99)

Melbourne author Jenny Ackland is at her pitch-perfect best with this image of a child nursing a tame raven, and the cover design by Sandy Cull from gogoGingko is perfect too.

But don’t be fooled.  That kid is merciless.  Her end-of-year report describes her as intense and stubborn and I might well have written the same thing except that these days teachers aren’t allowed to write things like that in school reports.

Olive is 12 years old and adept at eavesdropping on family secrets when she discovers a photograph of her parents with a baby that has vanished from her dysfunctional family.  Already pilloried in the town as the child of people who are ‘odd’ because the two Lovelock brothers of dubious showground background married two Nash sisters of impressive pioneering origins, Olive has learned the art of never giving in when she wants information about something.

She has plenty of opportunity to interrogate the family.  There are frequent visits to the family farm, where her aunt Rue lives with her husband and three children, Sebastian (a bit older), Archie (a bit younger) and Mandy (irritatingly young).  There is also Thistle, the eldest of the three Nash sisters, and the one who bore the brunt of her tyrannical mother’s anger.  Thistle really is a bit odd, but she has good reason to be, and she is the only one that Olive can trust to answer her questions.  It’s just that Thistle isn’t always clear about how things happened and why because she has her own terrible burden.

The novel starts off slowly, and it takes a while before the reader realises that there is more to engage with than is immediately apparent.  Like the jigsaw puzzles that Thistle likes to do, the whole picture takes a while to emerge and then the pieces fit together.  Narrative tension is guaranteed by Olive’s certainty that the baby was murdered and that her investigations lead to the town’s bad boys, Jethro Sand and his thuglike brothers who are about as nasty as town bad boys can be.  The children of this era were free of helicopter parents and they disappear off to places where great harm could come to them.

In the end though, the novel raises some interesting questions.  Do children have the right to know everything about their families?  And if they do, when’s the right time to tell them?  Judgemental children will blame parents for their secrets, but (as my mother used so often to say) parents are people too and they are not necessarily obliged to revisit painful episodes in their own lives just because they have inquisitive children.  The sense of entitlement that children have about this and many other things, is up for discussion, and this book is a good starting point.

Author: Jenny Ackland
Title: Little Gods
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2018
ISBN: 9781760297114
Review copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Available from Fishpond: Little Gods and good bookshops everywhere



  1. Right or wrong, children feel aggrieved when secrets are kept from them. I know I did (feel aggrieved AND kept secrets).


    • I don’t feel aggrieved. There’s no point…


  2. […] a Life at the Edge of the World); Jenny Ackland (author of The Secret Son and her new one,  Little Gods);  and Dennis Glover (author of The Last Man in Europe). And that’s just the ones whose […]


  3. […] Ackland (author of The Secret Son and her new one,  Little Gods);  […]


  4. […] festival: Jane Rawson (From the Wreck); Michelle Scott Tucker (Elizabeth Macarthur), Jenny Ackland (Little Gods) and Georgina Arnott (whose book The Real Judith Wright I bought at the WLF last year but […]


  5. […] Little Gods, by Jenny Ackland #BookReview […]


  6. […] Little Gods, by Jenny Ackland […]


  7. […] Little Gods by Jenny Ackland, see my review […]


  8. […] Gods has been shortlisted for this year’s Stella Prize and has been positively reviewed at ANZLitLovers and Whispering […]


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