Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 30, 2022

The Rain Heron, by Robbie Arnott

Just a quick review this time, I’m rather busy with preparation for tradesmen in the house.

Tasmanian author Robbie Arnott has a new book (Limberlost) due out soon, so it was time to read his novel which I’d bought as soon as it was released in 2020.  The Rain Heron (2020), won the Age Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for a swag of other awards: the Miles Franklin Literary, the ALS Gold Medal, the Voss Literary Prize and an Adelaide Festival Award for Literature.  But it is not for the faint-hearted:  both humans and animals are horribly violent in a novel that features domestic violence, psychological and physical torture, two murders by drowning, savage animal attacks and the shooting of an unarmed victim.  Trust me, this is a book that shocks the reader when characters meet their doom.

How does all this cruel mayhem come about?  There has been a coup, and although Ren has been living peacefully alone in a remote mountain cave, her refuge is soon discovered when soldiers come to the nearby small town in search of the fabled rain heron.  It is an easy matter for Harker to track the people with whom Ren barters her produce, and when she arrives at Ren’s cave it is clear not only that Harker will do ‘whatever it takes’ but that she seems to be missing the humanity gene…

Part 2 explains how this happened.  Zoe was a kid living with her grandmother, making a living through the sale of a fabled squid ink.  A ‘northerner’ turns up wanting to ‘modernise’ i.e. industrialise what is really a sustainable cottage industry, and he too is indefatigable.  Patient and determined, and greedy. Zoe does not emerge from tragedy unscathed.

Both the heron and the squid have their own means of turning the tables on humans who have exploited the natural world for too long.  Greed and exploitation are the basis for human activity in this cruel world, and those who try to live sustainably seem doomed.  Even Daniel, the doctor, succumbs to violence because he is ‘following orders’.

The novel seems like a warning and it feels like a relief when the tentative prospect of redemption emerges.

See other reviews at Word by Word, Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large, and Where the Books Go.

Author: Robbie Arnott
Title: The Rain Heron
Cover art by Chong W.H.
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2020
ISBN: 9781922268778, pbk., 269 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh, $29.99


Responses

  1. I have this but yet to read it. This may be the year I do. 🐧🌷

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    • I feel guilty about taking so long to get to it…

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  2. Absolutely loved this book.

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    • I do too, but there were moments when something happened to a character I had come to care about that I felt shattered. (That shows you how good he is at characterisation IMO).

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  3. Yes, I think this book is a warning about not messing with nature!

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    • But also about the truculence of humans who refuse to learn that lesson.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have an ex-reading group friend – ex because she moved away – who stays in regular contact, always sending me her top reads of the year when I ask the group for theirs. One of her favourite current authors in Robbie Arnott. In fact, she met Tim Winton last year in Western Australia – socially, long story – and asked him what he thought of Arnott because she liked him so much! I have still to read him though. I wonder if they are all as violent as this. I love the title Limberlost. Anyhow, I like that there is a hint of redemption at the end. I don’t mind grim, but redemption, even a glimmer, is nice.

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    • There were hints of his fascination with violence in Flames too. And vengeance…

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    • Is Winton a fan too?

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      • As far as I remember from what my friend said when I asked her, he didn’t say much … hard to know, from this remove as I wasn’t there, whether he hadn’t read him or he wasn’t particularly enamoured.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Now that all the hype has passed I might give this a try, not that BorrowBox has it (or anything much that I look for). I don’t want to buy it in case I DNF due to violence.

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    • Haha Bill, I am well past any hype when his next book is due any day now!

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  6. Crikey – sounds a bit too much for me tbh!

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    • Yes, there’s some horrific images…
      Maybe people who read sci-fi and dystopias are more inured to horror than me…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a HUGE fan of Arnott, I find his writing mesmerising. Normally I’m a sook when it comes to violence and trauma in fiction, but maybe the (barely) dystopian nature of Arnott’s world was enough to desensitise me? As that is not how I remember the book at all. I was in awe of the beautiful language and majestic imagery and I still think about the rain heron to this day.

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    • It’s wonderful how the same book with the same words takes people in different ways!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have a copy of this but now I see your mention of the violence I’m really hesitant. Is it very graphic?

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    • It’s hard to know what to say without spoilers. I should say this, even though I was nauseated, I kept going because I had to know what happened.

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  9. It can be a nice little nudge, when a second book comes out and you’re freshly reminded to read the author’s first. (But, then, if you miss that window, things can get quickly out of hand. Hah)

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    • LOL don’t we all know that!

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