Review Blog

May 25 2009

The winds of heaven by Judith Clarke

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2009.
ISBN 9781741757316
(Ages 12+) I anticipate a powerful storyline with memorable characters when reading a new work of Judith Clarke's. The Winds of Heaven has not disappointed. Fan lives in rural New South Wales. She is wild and beautiful, spontaneous and exuberant, but confined by small town gossip and an abusive mother. Clementine lives in the city; just an ordinary girl, rather naive and reserved, but encouraged by loving yet cautious parents. The girls are cousins and, after an initial family visit, their lives become intertwined. We meet the girls in 1952 when Clementine and her mother make the train journey to see Aunt Rene and Fan. Though she struggles at school, Fan possesses a strong feeling for the land - its smell, taste and movements - the country around her offers escape and a sense of contentment. She has befriended a 'fringe dweller' - an old aboriginal man - who has shared his stories and language with her, and she confides this to her bemused cousin.
Clementine returns home with mixed feelings. She is fascinated by Fan and connects with her cousin in thought but the commitment to see her is not there. Circumstances and apprehensions separate them.  As the years pass, Clementine allows too much precious time to escape and Fan eventually goes away.
Clarke skilfully handles the time structure of the novel. It opens in 2009 with Clementine looking back over her life as she sits in the park with a friend. The reader then meets the girls in the 50s and the 60s before returning to the present.
The story is very readable, told with great insight and compassion. Both girls have inner battles to fight and the odds are against them in different ways. The prose has a poetic quality which keeps the reader lingering on pages.
Clarke's picture of life in Australia at the time is authentic. So too are the contrasts between city and country - in particular, the train journeys linking the two, work very well.
Their lives told with tenderness and understanding, Fan and Clementine will remain in my mind for a long time.
Julie Wells

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