BOOK REVIEW: Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP)

mullumbimbyWhen Jo Breen buys a property in the Byron Bay hinterland her motives are clear—to be closer to her ancestral land and to distance herself from city life. She has her longed-for property and horse, but Ellen, her teenage daughter, does not share her vision, nor do some of her neighbours, to say the least. Enter Twoboy, a charismatic young Aboriginal man intent on pursuing a Native Title case over the entire valley, despite competing claims. Jo and Twoboy become an item and the stage is set for a moving, contemporary rollercoaster of a tale set in an ancient land. The author moves the story along at a fast clip, except for occasional sermonising from Twoboy. She describes the land and its moods with affection and skill and persuades the reader to warm to most of the characters, including the infuriating Uncle Humbug and indomitable Granny Nurrung. Incidents abound, some very amusing and some chokingly poignant—I defy anyone to read the account of the death of Jo’s beautiful young colt, Comet, with dry eyes. Mullumbimby is a modern tale of the clash between cultures, of the importance of belonging, and, surprisingly, of the pitfalls of making assumptions about other people and their background. It deserves the widest readership.

Max Oliver is a veteran Sydney bookseller. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.