Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 15, 2020

A Treacherous Country, by K.M. Kruimink (2020 Vogel Winner)

A Treacherous Country is this year’s winner of the Vogel Award for an unpublished manuscript, and it’s a promising debut for its author K M (Kate) Kruimink.

This is the blurb:

Gabriel Fox, the young son of an old English house, arrives in a land both ancient and new.

Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire, and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabriel begins his quest into Van Diemen’s Land.

His guide, a Cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north where Gabriel might free himself of his distracting burden and seek the woman he must find. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.

Authentic, original and playful, A Treacherous Country is a novel of loyalty, wisdom and the freedom to act.

When the story begins, Gabriel is in the company of a shaggy Irishman he calls his Cannibal, en route from Hobart to a failed whaling station, which his escort wants him to buy (because in forty years the whales have been harvested almost to extinction).  Gabriel has arrived from Sydney where he gambled away everything he had in exchange for some possibly useless American harpoons, only to be conned into buying a stolen horse, which is subsequently stolen from him in turn.  He seems a nice young man, but gullible to a fault, and not just because he has fallen victim to skulduggery.  He has journeyed across the world on a quest is to find Maryanne Maginn, transported some 25 years beforehand, to please the guardian of his lady love, and thus to win her hand.

As it turns out, he is deluded about that, and everything else as well.

Kruimink lives in the Huon Valley, and her familiarity with the Tasmanian landscape gives her prose a bleak authenticity:

The sun did not rise, but instead presented as the suffusion of light behind thick cloud, like a flame behind a paper screen.  There was a complete lack of shadow and variety.  Everything about me glowed with equal import or insignificance, depending upon one’s point of view, and whether one was an optimist or not.  Ringlets of fog like girls’ hair were emerging from the trees and coiling down the bank.

Nobody knows where I am, I thought.  Nobody who loves me knows where I am.

Rather freeing, really. (p.69)

Alas for Gabriel, this freedom leads him to take part in a whale hunt (which I did not enjoy reading, for the same reasons I disliked Moby Dick, but the chapter is mercifully short, which Moby Dick is not).  He barely escapes with his life.  His companion Cook does not, but back on dry land, in Mrs Heron’s modest house, Gabriel’s reflections on his experience are rather droll:

‘It must have been a distressing thing,’ she said. ‘Dear Mr Cook was a good, simple, salt-of-the-earth Christian soul.  You did very well to try and help him.’

I responded that I had done little enough.

There were some more such niceties, which I am afraid I did not pay terribly much attention to; I had already partaken of a great quantity of rum, in the whaleboat and ashore, and now the powerful twin forces of whisky and nostalgia were having a deleterious effect upon my ability to discourse.  I had made careful study of dainty Conversation for the Drawing Room: a Guide for Young Ladies and Gentlemen when my mother had given it to me, but there was no passage within dealing with how one would approach my particular situation, drunk and post-catastrophe, conversationally speaking. (p. 143)

Yes, the quixotic hero of A Treacherous Country is inclined to be pompous, even in his own thoughts.  It’s a playful narrative.

The novel seamlessly blends Gabriel’s bizarre adventures in a strange new land with more sombre thoughts about what he has left behind.  There is a striking dissonance between the assertive women of Van Dieman’s Land, and his tragic mother, confined to the attic as a madwoman because she does not conform. Everyone back in Norfolk bows to the will of Gabriel’s father, whereas Mrs Heron in Tasmania is determined to control her own fate.  And in contrast to the rigid class distinctions of England, Gabriel finds that the definitions of a Tasmanian gentleman are fluid too.

It’s a coming-of-age story with a difference!

I’ve noticed in recent years that WA publishers have been adept at picking up shortlisted titles for the T A g Hungerford Award, so it will be interesting to see if the other manuscripts shortlisted for the Vogel are also picked up by publishers: keep an eye out for The Islands by Emily Brugman; Tete by Belinda Lopez; and The Followers by Maree Spratt.

Author: K.M.Kruimink
Title: A Treacherous Country
Cover design: Sandy Cull
Publisher: ALlen & Unwin, 2020
ISBN: 9781760877408, pbk., 248 pages
Review copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Available from Fishpond: A Treacherous Country


Responses

  1. I want to read this as well. How can I resist, given the setting? ;-)

    Like

    • There’s a brief review at KYD as well (see https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/books-roundup-please-dont-hug-me-a-treacherous-country-mammoth-the-year-the-maps-changed-torched-come-a-memoir/). The reviewer takes issue with the way the novel makes no mention of the genocide a decade beforehand, but I think that’s authentic. An ignorant blow-in from England would have known nothing about it, and he wouldn’t have been told.
      Australian writing is still sorting out this issue of who can and should tell the story of our Black History and what protocols should be followed when we do. I don’t think it’s fair to critique a young author for failing a test that hasn’t been set yet.
      Mind you, an author note acknowledging country and explaining the reasons for her decisions might have been a good idea…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree: he would’t have been told. And I also agree with your point about critiquing a young author for failing a test we can’t (yet) agree on the best structure for.

        Like

        • There’s too much holier-than-thou discourse around identity politics. I like it when people discuss things calmly, share points of view with respect, expect people to learn the protocols but give them time and opportunity to do it, and give people credit for doing their best even if the results are flawed.

          Like


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