Saturday 22 November 2014

The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett

Most of you are already aware that I am now an evangelical Sonya Hartnett fanatic.
The Ghost's Child does nothing to change that!

I do wonder, though, if I would have enjoyed her books as a teen.

 "She'd weathered the bafflement of her childhood, and her bleak school years."

I tended to prefer girlish series and romances back then. Occasionally a librarian or teacher would challenge me with something like Animal Farm or To Kill a Mockingbird or A Merchant of Venice & I would get a taste of the big, wide wonderful world of adult literature ahead of me. It's just that I wasn't in any rush to get there.

I'm not sure if Hartnett's beautiful fable about love & loss, beauty, happiness & honesty would have caught my eye.

"It would be a shame to give up. Every journey must be finished."

Which is a shame, because The Ghost's Child has so much to say about life & death & the journey of growing up that happens in between.

"...but the truth is that memory is hardly ever good enough to console a heart."

Hartnett uses the usual magical elements associated with fairy tales to describe the unusual childhood & life of Matilda. Her use of language is simply glorious; lusher than Steven Herrick's (see review below) but equally as complex & nuanced.

This is a slim book with a lot to say about feminine power, freedom & truth.

I'll leave you with a few quotes...if I can decide, that is, which few to pull out!

"She had missed the hills when she was away, their bushfire smell and crackliness, the still air between the trees. She'd missed seeing lizards vanish under stones, missed hearing bellbird calls link the eucalypts like silver neck chains."

"The nargun had no sense of humour, so it never laughed at her; she told it what she dreamt and feared, and it took what she said very seriously. It folded her secrets against its solid black heart and carried their weight for her."

(NB: The Den of Nargun is found on Woolshed Creek in the Mitchell River National Park, Gippsland region, Victoria. Legend has it that the nargun was a fierce half-human, half-stone creature. It had the ability to deflect back to the thrower any weapon used against it. This story was used as a cautionary tale by local tribes to stop children from wandering too far away from the camp. 
The Den of Nargun was actually a sacred site for women's initiation and learning ceremonies. Hence Hartnett's use of the nargun legend in this story.)


  1. She's amazing. And rather prolific. I have so much to catch up on. I haven't read this one yet.

  2. And that is exactly why we need well-read librarians and teachers, to push us toward the quiet Sonya Hartnetts of the world. It's impossible to find them in this cluttered, shallow world.

  3. Hartlett sounds like an excellent writer and I will have to see if I can find her work here in Canada.


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