Review Blog

Nov 12 2020

Our shadows by Gail Jones

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Text Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781922330284.
Centred around three generations of Irish extraction and the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie first we meet poor families in Ireland, many of whom fled the potato famines of the 1850s, sailing to America and Australia in search of better lives. Paddy Hannan was one of those and it was he who stumbled upon the Kalgoorlie gold deposits, becoming wealthy, living every prospector's dream. Digging the wealth from the ground provided work for generations of miners in the hot, dusty outback town which has grown to have the biggest open cut goldmine, the Superpit. In 1977, when their mother died giving birth, baby Frances, and her sister Nell, 18 months, were sent to Kalgoorlie to be brought up by their grandparents, miner Fred, Else and their aunt Enid.
The fragmented narrative shifts between reflecting on the life of Paddy Hannan and the lives of the family, shifting between Fred and Else's lives, the girls' childhood memories and adult struggles. Reflecting on what is shared and what is suppressed and the damage done by greed, war, mining and emotional repression the author picks away at their lives sorting through seemingly trivial memories that pivot on significant moments in their lives. I tired of the constant analysis of the character's emotional states and questioned some of the feelings assigned to the historical figure of Paddy Hannan. I was ready for the book to end at page 227 when Part Two was introduced. While it was a nice addition and I felt the character of Val was beautifully drawn, it seemed to be there to fill the need for an indigenous voice.
Lovers of historical fiction and Gail Jones' other works will enjoy this book and it shines a light on Australia's biggest goldmining town.
Sue Speck

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