Review Blog

May 06 2013

Harmless by Julienne Van Loon

cover image

Fremantle Press, 2013. ISBN 978 1922089045.
(Age: 14+) Slavery. Prison system. Western Australia. Dave is in prison waiting for visitors: his daughter, Amanda is being brought by his dead partner's father, Rattuwat, a Thai man lately coming to Australia for his daughter's funeral. He and his wife have received letters from Sua since she left their home, talking of her Australian husband and her children, but speaking little English, he has no idea of what has really happened. On their way to the prison, the car breaks down and the two, the old man and the child, abandon their car to walk the rest of the way. The child doesn't understand who this old man is, and impatient, leaves him behind. During the long hot day, we are taken into their worlds, understanding more of their backgrounds and what has happened to those who care for them.
It is a desperate story, one of an abused young girl in Thailand, repaying a family debt by working in a brothel, and a controlling Australian man who takes the girl back to his home, keeping her imprisoned. Her eventual escape and run to Dave with his daughter and much older son, brings some happiness for them both, a more settled life, until Dave is imprisoned, and he finds out how Sua rid herself of her tormenter.
The long day draws in other characters and their stories, filling in the background to Dave's incarceration and Sua's abuse, giving details of Dave's life with Amanda's mother, and allowing us to see the uncertainty with which all their lives are constrained. This is a compelling story, dragging the readers along with the smallness of these people's lives, and their inability to break away from the path before them. Each draws our tears, their lives buffetted by corruption and evil and we know that most will not rest easily.
Deemed a novella by the publishers, this could have some place in senior reading, where a story of modern Australia's life beneath the surface is exposed.
Fran Knight

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