My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow, what a book. This was by far one of the most unusual books I have ever read. Louis Nowra certainly deserves his standing in the Australian literary landscape. I was completely drawn in to the world of Hannah and Rebecca – after a slow start. This book kind of creeps up on you like a stalking thylacine, and that is as it should be.
Hannah and Becky, awkward friends, lost and alone after a shipping accident, are washed up on a strange shore and are cared for by a family of Tasmanian Tigers, Dave and Corinna. The story of how they gradually become more tiger than human is a compelling one. They learn to talk without speaking, to hunt, to small fear, to experience life at its most visceral. Far removed from their former lives as human girls, they are happy animals for years, until the fat man Hannah remembers seeing near her home when she lived with her father is spotted in the forest. Hannah knows he kills tigers. A cat and mouse game ensues, with Ernie, the tiger hunter, and the girls circling around each other until, eventually, the girls are caught.
Becky’s father, Mr Carson, has been searching for them all this time and now he wants to take them “home”. Hannah discovers that whatever she knew as home is gone – her parents are dead. She knows she only has herself to rely on. What follows is a series of events that takes all of them to the very edge of sanity and back again. I will not issue spoilers here (not my policy), but the end is devastating. Despite that, I felt the ending was exactly should have happened and as a reader that is a prize beyond measure.
This is writing at its finest. Nowra paints a picture for all the senses – the smell of blood, the sense of it, the tingling in the bones that the girls experience is very effectively described. There is a real atmosphere to this book – first free and then terribly oppressed. It is unnerving, unsettling and makes you question exactly what is human? What is HUMANE?
I will remember this book for a long time.