Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 27, 2022

Limberlost, by Robbie Arnott

An aggrieved Tweet piqued my interest the other day.  The tweeter, whose username is the title of a book he wrote, was peeved.  “You are reviewing books from 2008 but are too busy to review new books” he tweeted to a bookblogger. Her reply was: “This is a book I bought myself. I do read my own books. And you do realise that I review as a hobby. Blogging IS NOT a job…”

Well, while I have sympathy for the frustration of authors whose books for one reason or another don’t get reviews, it was very silly of him because of course all her followers piled on.  There were responses that could have been predicted: “Guessing your books are never going to be reviewed by anyone ever after this own goal” “This is the kind of comment that makes me put an author on my “never” list” and (a fine example of keyboard warrior overreach, underlining mine) “You annoyed the entire reviewing community”.

I thought of this exchange when I picked up Robbie Arnott’s new novel to read yesterday. This blog is littered with reviews of books that I bought on release but weren’t reviewed immediately.  Some of my as-yet-unread purchases go back many years, a decade or more.  I had bought  Arnott’s previous novel The Rain Heron (see my review) as soon as it was published in 2020, but didn’t get round to reading and reviewing it until 2022.  I don’t feel guilty about this, and Arnott gets plenty of reviews anyway, but (predating the aggrieved Tweet) I had put Limberlost on the bedside table as soon as I bought it, so that it would be reviewed ‘in a timely manner’ as they say. (But I still have five 2022 Australian releases on the TBR and three from 2021.)

Anyway, so despite the #1929 Club this week, and a plethora of reading events in November, and being in the middle of reading no less than eight books*, I read Limberlost ASAP.  And I’m so glad I did, because one of the books I had started was narrated by a foul-mouthed misogynistic character and Arnott’s poignant story about a quiet, sensitive man made me realise that Arnott’s book was the one I wanted to read.

There is so much to love about Limberlost but the descriptions of the Tasmanian landscape are exquisite:

Three days after their wedding they were standing at the base of Liffey Falls, at the brisk death of winter, watching an airborne river thrash its way earthward.  The water tumbled through high ridges, crowded with the princes of the island’s wetter wildernesses: blackheart sassafras, dappled leatherwoods, contortions of mossy myrtles.  Giant stringybarks rose above them all, their gum-topped crowns fighting for space in the clouds.  The forest loomed, wet-dark and thickly green in the morning dew, and through the ancient roots of its trees the Liffey ran and broke and fell to splash the boots of the gazing newlyweds. (p.68)

(The Liffey Falls are southwest of Launceston.  If you watch the video, you can see why this is the kind of bushwalking I like to do.)

Limberlost begins in the summer holidays of fifteen-year-old Ned West, moving backwards and forwards in time until he is a very old man.  Like the rest of his motherless family, he is reserved, reticent, stoic and hardworking, but he is underconfident in the shadow of his older, more competent brothers who are away at war. His father and sister Maggie are quick to judge when Ned fails to notice that one of the horses has a limp; his sister mocks him too when he thinks that a hawk is trying to get into the chicken coop.

One thing Ned is good at, is hunting and trapping pest rabbits, ostensibly to support the war effort because the pelts are used for the brims of slouch hats for the troops. Privately, however, he is saving the bounty money to buy a boat.  An impossible extravagance given the apple orchard’s precarious finances.  His desire, however, is not just for a boat, it’s for his father’s approval.  He wants to prove that he is competent:

He hadn’t told anyone why he was hunting rabbits—not his friends, not his father.  When he eventually brought the boat home, he imagined the occasion would be a double surprise: his acquisition of such a thing, and that he’d kept his mission secret.  He’d have his boat, and he’d have people’s shock at the casual totality of his competence.  Two victories. (p.8)

He sets a trap for the chicken-raider, but he doesn’t tell anyone when he finds a spotted-tail quoll caught in it by the leg.  He takes the injured quoll and the mare with the limp to Telle, the local vet, his sense of justice telling him that he should use his rabbit money to pay for it.

Huon pine boat (Source: Gumtree advert)

Ned has a mate from school, a wonderful character.  A bit of a rough diamond, but he’s the one who helps Ned find a battered old boat that he can afford.  I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only (Australian) reader who realised with dawning delight before Ned does, that underneath the tatty paint, the boat is made of Huon Pine, one of the most beautiful (and valuable) timbers on the planet.  (See here for ‘what’s so special about Huon Pine’.) Arnott details Ned’s painstaking efforts to restore the boat and teach himself to sail it as he similarly details the coming of age of this gentle soul in unforgettable prose.

(It’s such a shock when he loses his temper over a cat in the car!)

Limberlost is a departure in style for Robbie Arnott.  There are no magical elements and no apocalyptic future. It is thoughtful, insightful realism in exquisite prose. He explores the strengths and limitations of masculinity in fathers and sons; he acknowledges the claims of Tasmania’s First Nations history but offers no simplistic resolution; he demonstrates the impact of thoughtless human activity on the environment but shows that it injures people as well.  Ned matures, but he still makes mistakes, and he still betrays his own inarticulately expressed ideals.

Limberlost is a beautifully textured novel which I expect to see on shortlists everywhere.

Brona from This Reading Life liked it too, see her review here.

*Currently reading (Updated 29/10/22)

  1. Septology by Jon Fosse (chunkster, 700+pages, review copy from Giramondo)
  2. A House is Built by Barnard Eldershaw (1929 Club, 359 pages), review published 31/10/22
  3. Daniel Andrews, by Sumeyya Ilanbey (NF, state election next month, 273 pages) review scheduled for 13/11/22
  4. The Big Teal by Simon Holmes à Court (NF in November, 86 pages), review scheduled for 12/11/22
  5. The Bookseller of Florence by Ross King (399 pages, an art book, I’ve been reading and savouring it for ages).
  6. The Watcher on the Cast-iron Balcony by Hal Porter (AusReadingMonth, 255 pages)
  7. Confusion by Stefan Zweig (Novellas in November, 143 pages, my handbag book), review published 1/11/22
  8. I won’t name this last one because I abandoned it. I like to think that I am open to all kinds of reading, but I don’t want to endure a book.

Author: Robbie Arnott
Title: Limberlost
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2022
Cover art & design by W H Chong
ISBN: 9781922458766, pbk., 226 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh

Image credit: huon pile rowboat for sale, https://www.gumtree.com.au/s-ad/gardenvale/tinnies-dinghies/wooden-row-boat-high-detail-finish/1253277361


Responses

  1. What’s the title of the book narrated by “a foul-mouthed misogynistic character”? Anyway, re the tweet stuff….. I’m sure we would all love to read even more books than we do. There’s just not enough time in the world when you have to do other things… like, you know, sleep.

    Will pass on this due to the animal stuff.

    Like

    • Sorry, Guy, the title of that book is between me and the publisher who sent it to me.
      Would we all like to reading more than we do? Of course. But I think that, collectively, our informal network of people who take reviewing seriously and strive to do it well, covering a wide range of books to suit all sorts of tastes, is a valuable free resource for readers around the world.
      And I also think that if our readers don’t like what we do or the way we do it, they don’t have to read us!

      Like

  2. Funny Lisa, as I was reading and loving MY 1929 read – won’t name it yet – I was thinking I’ll start or end my post with an apology to contemporary authors because they are piling up but I am so loving this I don’t feel at all guilty. And I think it will provide just the respite I need from contemporary concerns and writing.

    I’ve haven’t read the rest of your post because any book titled Limberlost is attracting me!

    Like

    • You read The Girl of the Limberlost too, eh?

      Like

      • Absolutely … haha … and to my daughter in her time who equally loves it.

        Like

        • I know that there are ‘issues’ with the ‘canon’ of books that I read in childhood, but I do love the synchronicity of a shared reading past. As we saw in Carmel bird’s Telltale, and in The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide. And also in Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I just got Limberlost. Ronnie Arnott launched it here through Fullers in a pub but I missed the post and it booked out quickly. If I were on Twitter I’d be fighting with people all the time with comments like you posted. I just can’t read social media posts. So many drive me crazy. FB only has good friends and family on it but put one foot wrong they’re out the door or I friended, mostly around American politics which I don’t allow in my life. Lol

    Like

    • *chuckle*
      Most of social media is just horrible and a waste of time and I ignore nearly all of it. I don’t have Instagram, I’m AWOL from Facebook and most of the time my Twitter feed just tells me about new reviews from people I follow, or new books. I curate it very carefully, and I quickly block and mute people and topics almost every day.
      But sometimes, it’s more of a spectator sport. It’s like the ABC news, I watch it not to know what’s happening, but to see what everyone else is carrying on about. It comes into my feed when people I follow ‘like’ a tweet from someone I don’t follow at all, and I mostly sit on the sidelines wondering why they ‘liked’ it. Raising my eyebrows but aiming to maintain a dignified silence.
      It’s the nearest I get to popular culture.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s funny. I wouldn’t have fb except our photography groups use it for mtg info and photos and competitions and my relatives in states are on it. Sometimes I have gone to a contentious site and written the opposite view just to see a million people jump on it and start frothing. Hahaha

        Like

        • FB is great for photos. Friends used to like my photos of my baking…
          But the problem arises when we’re posting our best selves all the time. This can make others feel inadequate, that “everyone else” is having a great time, doing clever things, looking gorgeous etc. A photo of coffee with friends can make others feel left out, because they weren’t invited. People call it FOMO (fear of missing out) but it can be hurtful for some people.
          Your photo group is different because it’s purposeful and everyone knows the ground rules.

          Like

  4. So glad this book is getting the love it deserves. Great review Lisa.

    Like

    • Thank you, I’ve just linked to yours.
      There was some speculation about the next MF on Twitter yesterday, I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t get nominated.

      Like

  5. I have Rain Heron but haven’t read it having seen somewhere that it includes some violent scenes involving
    animals. Limberlost sounds much more to my taste.

    I saw all the tweets about that guy who complained about a blogger’s failure to read new issues (I suspect sour grapes involved). Yet another example of how people feel able to say things in social media they wouldn’t think of saying in real life. The book

    Like

    • Yes, that’s true about social media, but it’s also indicative of the sense of entitlement some authors have. A couple of years ago I was approached to review the kind of book I never read, (which of course he would have realised if he looked at my review policy.) When I explained, as nicely as I could, that I wasn’t interested, he became abusive, and there was a brief exchange of emails where he tried to bully me into expanding the range of books I read, and he berated me for not being adventurous in my reading. It was a brief exchange because of course I blocked his emails.
      Would he have said those things F2F? I don’t know…

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  6. I’m very much looking forward to Limberlost now.

    Like

  7. This sounds lovely. The Twitter thing is interesting, too – I live in a v small bubble there and use it for book chat, the occasional share of something important to me, and contacting brands (so useful: I confirmed my friend could still get her son who lives with autism’s favourite yoghurts with one Tweet the other day!). I do try to balance new review copies with older acquisitions and I’m about a year behind, but I can see fancy lovely hardbacks on the shelf I have delayed on reading!

    Like

    • The thing to hang onto, IMO, is the principle that reading is our hobby and we have always done it in ways that suit us. And blogging reviews, though it may benefit other readers and writers (or it may not!) is a voluntary activity which should be a pleasure, not an obligation, not a cause of stress, and not done to anyone’s agenda but our own. And if that attitude as it plays out in practice doesn’t suit somebody, well, there is plenty of choice out there on the web.

      Like

  8. I bought limberlost on the strength of Brona’s review and now yours has only confirmed I need to read ASAP.

    I’ve dealt with my fair share of self-entitled authors, including the one who proceeded to send me spam emails (in the days before two-factor authorisation) for months and months because I rejected an offer to review his book. Those people can just go jump in the bin. Honestly, I do this as a hobby, not a profession.

    Like

    • Amen to that!
      Honestly, Kim, Limberlost is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It has its moments of high tension, but it has left me with a feeling of calm, that there are good people in this world doing their best.
      It reminds me of a lovely book that never had the attention it deserved, Hare’s Fur by Trevor Shearston. It’s nothing like Limberlost, really, except it features a good tho’ imperfect man, trying to do his best in a difficult situation. When there is so much negativity in public discourse and publishing is awash with grim themes, its exploration of kindness and trust is a balm for the soul.

      Like

      • Oh yes, I read Hare’s Fur and LOVED it.

        Like

  9. That Tweet was nonsense – we should read what we want, when we want. I suspect he made himself a lot of enemies. As for Limberlost, it does sound good but I think the animal content would be a bit much for me…

    Like

    • Ha! Re the animals…
      You might find that you love the care and attention Ned gives to the injured quoll, (a wild animal with ferocious teeth and it’s not at all grateful) and you might rejoice in the exquisite moment when he releases it back into the bush.
      Yes, that Tweet was sheer folly. I mean, it’s Human Relationships 101 : being rude and horrible and entitled to people who aren’t interested in you, doesn’t bring the kind of interest that you want!

      Like

  10. I used to be envious of bloggers who got heaps of new books in the mail. Not any more. Reviewing on demand is just another job, and not one I’d enjoy.

    I haven’t tried Robbie Arnott. I’m trying fewer and fewer new authors it seems, which is my loss, but the oldies keep me occupied.

    Like

    • Hmm, forgive the Women’s Weekly psychoanalysis, but I find your own blog’s interrogations of masculinity as you’ve lived it interesting, so I think you’d find this interesting too.
      I wish I could tempt you with a new book sometimes…

      Like

  11. I loved this book. I thought about the setting as I was driving along kanamaluka/ the Tamar River earlier this week.

    Like

    • I can imagine this. I liked his two previous books, but I loved this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. […] other reviews, please see Lisa’s at ANZ LitLovers, Brona’s at This Reading Life and Susan’s at A Life in […]

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