“The Dry” seeps into your imagination like a stain. It clings to you like a smell of something foul that you can’t wash out of your hair. It opens with a description of the aftermath of violent death that is steeped in a harsh indifference that sets the tone for the book.
“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.”
“The Dry” is set in a small, drought-ridden community in south-east Australia. The place is so remote that new arrivals are…
“… always taken aback by the crushing vastness of the open land. The space was the thing that hit them first. There was so much of it. There was enough to drown in. To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight.”
This is an unforgiving place. A place so harsh you have to get along with one another to survive, even when that means turning a blind eye to things that should be confronted and stopped. Like the land it sits on, this community is a dry husk of its former self and needs only a spark to be engulfed in flame.
Aaron Falk grew up there. He left. He’s never been back. He’s built a life for himself in Melbourne, working as a Federal Agent investigating fraud. Shortly after seeing on the news that Luke, Aaron’s best friend growing up, has taken a shotgun to his wife, his young son and himself, Aaron receives a note from Luke’s father. It says:
“Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral”.
Aaron is not welcomed back to his hometown. He is reviled and threatened. He wants to leave but he can’t let himself do that until he has looked into the shootings and their possible links to the death that caused him to leave this community decades earlier.
The plot is this book is both complicated and realistic. It kept me guessing but solving the puzzle was a secondary part of the experience. The main focus was on the Aaron Falk coming to terms with his past and his present by understanding, with an adult’s eyes, what living in this harsh place did to him and the people he grew up with.
The story is laced with threat and guilt and without becoming too overtly violent. The threat sits on you with the oppressive weight of an over-hot, windless day. It’s always there.
The dialogue is bang on, summoning up a world that is distinctively Australian both in its pace and its content.
Stephen Shanahan narrates the book at slow, deliberate pace that matches the mood perfectly. His performance is first rate.
I was surprised to find that “The Dry” is Jane Harper’s debut novel. Her writing is accomplished. She has created an interesting and original character in Aaron Falk and has given me a taste of rural Australia that felt as real as it was disturbing.