2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge Review: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

Logo of a silhouette of a steampunkily-dressed woman in a hat carrying an umbrella. In white text on the silhouette is '2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge'. Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

Carpentaria is Alexis Wright’s second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of northwestern Queensland.

The novel’s portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight’s renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other.

Wright’s storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, politics and farce. The novel teems with extraordinary characters – the outcast saviour Elias Smith, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist Will Phantom, and above all, the rulers of the family, the queen of the rubbish-dump and the fish-embalming king of time, Angel Day and Normal Phantom – figures of such an intense imagining, they stand like giants in this storm-swept world….

My review

I can see why Carpentaria won a Miles Franklin Award. It is a big book which tells an important story in a manner likely to be novel to many readers.

On its face, Carpentaria is the story of a town, Desperance, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, giving the reader an insight into tensions within the Aboriginal communities on the outskirts of the town and between them and the white people who live in the town itself. Underneath that, and far more importantly, it is a story about family, Country and Culture.

It was at first difficult for me to follow, as the first few chapters take an entirely non-linear path and at times appear somewhat unrelated. However, if the reader simply reads and accepts these chapters as separate stories, it soon becomes clear that they set the scene for the main events of the novel, as well as introducing many of the characters. Nothing is there by accident and no reading is wasted. The book is never entirely linear, but does become easier to follow, and the story easier to comprehend, as the reader learns more.

To try to explain more would give too much away. Let it suffice to say that Ms Wright’s work is meticulous, and I suspect each word was placed with care. The reader is in safe hands.

This is a review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.


Categories: arts & entertainment, Culture, gender & feminism, indigenous

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1 reply

  1. As someone who hasn’t read Carpentaria yet – and I should fix that ASAP – it sounds very much like a David Foster novel (The Glade within the Grove, Mates of Mars, In the New Country.) The punning surnames/place names, especially, remind me of DF.

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