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The White Earth


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About the Author

Andrew McGahan was born in Dalby, Queensland, and died in Victoria in 2019 at age fifty-two. His first novel, Praise (1992), won the 1991 Australian/Vogel's Literary Award and the regional prize for best first book in the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. His second novel was the prequel 1988 (1995), and his third novel, Last Drinks (2000), was shortlisted for multiple awards, including The Age Book of the Year and the Courier-Mail Book of the Year Award, and won a Ned Kelly Award for Crime Writing. In 2004, The White Earth was published and won the 2005 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the South East Asia and South Pacific Region, The Age Book of the Year (Fiction) and the Courier-Mail Book of the Year Award. It was also shortlisted for the Queensland Premier's Literary Award. McGahan's fifth novel, Underground, was published in 2006 and was shortlisted in the Queensland Premier's Literary Award for fiction and for the Aurealis Award. In 2009, Wonders of a Godless World was published to acclaim and won the Aurealis Award. His final novel, The Rich Man's House, was published in 2019. McGahan's award-winning writing also includes stage plays and the screenplay for the movie version of Praise.


Playing with genre expectations, McGahan's layered, impressive book (after 1988 and Praise) begins as a child's tale, takes on shades of the horror story and, in its most surprising shift, becomes a tragedy of Australian history. Set in Australia's Queensland province, the novel begins with the blaze of 70 acres of wheat, a conflagration that consumes nine-year-old William's father and sends the boy and his mother packing to his great-uncle John McIvor's rotting mansion on the arid plains of what was once a vast sheep ranch. Chapters alternate between William settling into his new existence (action set in the early 1990s), and the story of John's youth on the ranch, where as the son of the ranch manager he nurtured ambitions to one day own the estate. John recruits William's help in organizing a rally for his right-wing group, which opposes the proposed Native Title laws that would return Aboriginal-claimed land to the original inhabitants. The novel's first half is a slow build, the second half, a well-wrought, meditative reflection on Australia's colonialist demons, brings the book's gothic intimations home to roost. William must discover for himself the horrors that John's beloved land conceals and the original sin that lurks in Australia's past. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

McGahan's fourth book is set in his familiar territory of Australia, specifically the desolate outback of fictional Kuran Station. This massive property was once owned by the White family dynasty and has fallen into ruin. Young William lives with his parents on a modest farm in the shadow of the once-great place until a tragic accident leads him into its heart. There, he meets the current owner, who happens to be his great uncle, John McIvor. At first, Uncle John seems angry and frightening to William, but after they spend more time together, William learns that there is much more to this man and the land that they both now call home. An intriguing read in the tradition of the family saga, this novel won the 2005 Miles Franklin Award; highly recommended for all libraries.-Leann Restaino, Girard, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

After his Vogel-winning, sex, sweat and scratching debut Praise and its prequel/sequel 1988, McGahan left his grungy youth behind with Last Drinks, an epic of crime and corruption in the bad old Bjelke-Petersen days. His latest novel is an epic of a different sort, a kind of Australian pastoral Gothic. A plot summary reads like a Brontë novel transplanted to the Darling Downs in the 1990s: feckless father dies due to his own carelessness; nervy mother is left penniless in charge of sensitive boy; mysterious uncle takes them on as a charity case; big, derelict house; grouchy housekeeper; family secrets etc. While there is nothing wrong with using a familiar plot structure as an armature to hang a contemporary novel on, it needs to be matched with likable characters, a new twist and/or compelling writing in order to work and hold the reader’s interest. Sadly, The White Earth falls down on all these counts. By the time the story hots up—and it does head in quite an unexpected direction—the reader is almost halfway into a substantial book. I fear many will struggle to get that far. Tim Coronel is AB&P’s assistant editor. C. 2004 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors

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