Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 23, 2021

Locust Summer, by David Allan-Petale

Locust Summer was shortlisted for the 2017 Vogel, and was IMHO unlucky not to win it, because it’s a very fine novel indeed.

This is the blurb:

On the cusp of summer, 1986, Rowan Brockman’s mother asks if he can come home to Septimus in the Western Australian Wheatbelt to help with the harvest. Rowan’s brother Albert, the natural heir to the farm, has died, and Rowan’s dad’s health is failing. Although he longs to, there is no way that Rowan can refuse his mother’s request as she prepares the farm for sale.
This is the story of the final harvest – the story of a young man in a place he doesn’t want to be, being given one last chance to make peace before the past, and those he has loved, disappear.

So often, we hear young people exhorted to ‘follow their dreams’ … but for families in remote farming areas of Australia, this advice can tear families apart.  When Rowan Brockman left the family farm to become a journalist, he was not the heir, he was ‘the spare’ but his decision to find a future elsewhere alienated him from the family anyway because of the gulf between his lifestyle and ambitions, and theirs.

I’m a city girl: I would be the last person on earth to be interested in the intricacies of farming, so I feel as if this book which subverts the typical farm story was written just for me.  Rowan the journo is just as ignorant as I am about what’s involved in harvesting a wheat crop, and by writing the novel from the urban perspective of a man out of his comfort zone, the author has conveyed the tension of those days without labouring the point.  There is a not-negotiable deadline that has to accommodate unexpected rainfall, not to mention conflict amid the team.  Rowan is the inexperienced intruder but he’s part of the family that owns the land so his status is ambiguous.  He has inappropriate clothes, soft hands and aching muscles which make him the subject of some mockery amongst the men.

Perhaps the worst job on a farm is mending fences.  And though our morning tour hadn’t revealed a busted wire or a loose picket, Sterlo set me to work pinching in a new section of livestock fencing near one of the gates linking our paddocks to the neighbouring Chambers’ property.

‘See how those office hands stand up’, he said, handing me a pair of pliers and a hammer.  ‘I’ll roll it out, you fix it to the posts.’

By lunch my fingers ached with arthritic tension, and by knock-off at five they could barely make the fists I wanted to shake at the whole blasted place.’ (p.27)

As Sterlo tells Rowan when he takes an unauthorised break, it doesn’t matter if he just helps his mother to take care of things, but if he’s going to be part of the team ‘This is no place for passengers’.   Rowan’s pride won’t stand for that but one careless moment means he nearly ruins the crop; another moment of stupidity nearly costs him his life (and kept me reading well into the night.)

Rowan came back for his brother Albert’s funeral, but did his grieving in Perth, leaving his parents to manage on their own.  He is shocked to see the deterioration in his father’s health when he reluctantly returns, and after years of his neglect, his mother—with whom he has a fraught relationship—isn’t tolerant of any interventions he might want to make now.  Rowan doesn’t fit in at the pub, and there’s a girl he once fancied who isn’t about to change her life because he’s come back. He doesn’t understand—and more importantly, takes for granted—the long-term loyalty of the team leader who stepped up and took Alby’s place.  His mother thinks he deserves the punch he gets when he offends this crucial member of the team.

There are other aspects to the novel: a belated coming-of-age; Rowan’s at-risk position at the unsentimental newspaper in Perth; conflicting ideas about selling the land to a university for research with implications for employees who’ve worked it for years; and the complex emotions that bedevil families on the land.  Not everyone loves it—some make sacrifices to make a go of it out of love—but abandoning it for whatever reason invites judgement from others and guilt from within.

Locust Summer is an absorbing novel that I found unputdownable, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

There is a sample chapter at the publisher’s website, and book group notes and an author interview too.

Author: David Allan-Petale
Title: Locust Summer
Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2021
Cover design: Nada Bacakovic (thanks, Twitter!)
ISBN: 9781925816365, pbk., 240 pages
Review copy courtesy of Fremantle Press

Available from Fremantle Press and all good retailers.


Responses

  1. Thanks! Not one I’ve heard about before, will definitely follow it up :)

    Like

    • I loved it, I really did.
      It’s that satisfaction that you feel when you’re deeply into the reading of a book that’s wholly absorbing. It doesn’t happen with every book, but I had it with this one.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful review, Lisa! This book looks very fascinating! Adding this to my list! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

    Like

    • I hope you can get a copy in India, Vishy:)

      Like

      • I just checked, Lisa. It looks like this edition is not available yet. Will wait for it to come out. It looks wonderful from your review. Can’t wait to read 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to hear this! I have it on my TBR pile and the beautiful cover keeps beckoning me.

    Like

    • Oh… I forgot to credit the cover designer!
      *pause to retrieve the book from the ‘read’ shelf*
      *hunt, front to back and the acknowledgements*
      I can’t find it. The images are credited at the front, to Shutterstock and elsewhere, but who put them together… I can’t find it.

      Like

      • That’s a shame, because it was beautifully designed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Today I saw a comment on Twitter about Nada Backovic’s beautiful design, so I’ve edited it above to credit her.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. […] reviews by Lisa Hill at ANZ LitLovers and Gemma Nisbet in the West […]

    Like


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: