My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a wonderful read. I knew Eleanor Dark’s name, but had never read anything of hers. On whim, I picked this up; that it was about farming life somewhere in North Qld attracted me.
It’s not a novel, as such; nor a collection of short stories, though more like the later than the former. The book is populated with wonderful characters, whom Eleanor Dark describes as Anachronisms (capitalised), who have farms and all live along one lane, a dead end road off another road to some small town. The small town is called Dillibill. I haven’t looked up whether it really exists, but I suspect the answer is that it is not. It’s quite irrelevant whether there is a real place, because it is real enough. And all the farmers are archetypes, of a unique sort, demonstrating to us the particular follies and foibles of farming and non-farming life.
And in case you are wondering, it’s not really about farming at all. It’s about people, surviving, and being different from the norm, and a true community. It’s also bloody hilarious.
I laughed out loud, a lot, while reading this book. Some of my laughter was self-directed: I could certainly see myself in many of the characters (particularly Bruce Kennedy, the worm-loving anorak) and see the folly in some of my own dreams of farming. (Sometime in the distant future, perhaps. I would have to be even more brave to become a farmer than to become a writer, methinks.)
Eleanor Dark writes beautfiully. She has a somewhat didactic style, like a school teacher telling stories to rapt children. I can see her winking as she tells the stories. She writes of all these eccentric characters with warmth and humour, the kind of humour borne out of real affection for humanity, rather than desire to laugh at misfortune. There’s no meanness in any of Eleanor Dark’s descriptions of her characters, even the ones who are foolish or superstitious or shallow.
If you like whimsy, but with guts, you’ll like this. I’ll be reading more Eleanor Dark in future!