Wednesday 10 June 2020

The Rain Heron | Robbie Arnott #AUSfiction

Thank goodness for Robbie.

After a spate of so-so books and DNF's, I finally landed on this beautifully imagined, eco-dystopian tour de force from my new favourite contemporary Australian writer.

My love affair with Arnott started last year, when I read his debut novel, Flames. This is a little of what I had to say about him at the time,
Like a teenager in full flight, it's a hard novel to define or pin down. Like a teenager, it's a debut with flights of fancy, bravado and wild schemes. It's on the verge of greatness, oozing potential and grand ideas. But unlike living with teenagers, I loved every minute of it and can't wait to see what Arnott does next!

Arnott has matured into a writer to watch. In The Rain Heron he has moved onto a stronger narrative structure on which to hang his story, although, dare I say, it was the shorter stories that began the book, that enthralled me the most. 

The first sighting of the rain heron, in all it's majesty and brutality, was mesmerising. Zoe's early life with her aunt, fishing for squid ink, is something I will never forget. Ren's life, precariously carved out, on the side of a mountain was so powerfully written, that I also felt like I had lived through every hardship and battle with nature that Ren had experienced. 

The invented world that Arnott has evoked feels so real. After the summer we've had in Australia, his dystopian vision of a world battling against itself and against nature in a fight for survival, feels much closer than it once did. In Arnott's world, as the climate and environment becomes more unpredictable and dangerous, humans react with equal savagery.

His nature fable takes us on a journey of survival and resilience, loss and hope that resonates even more strongly during these Covid times. A story that promises redemption through kindness is a story we all need to hear right now.

I'm a fan. A HUGE fan.

The Rain Heron is probably the best book I've read so far in 2020. Arnott takes you on a journey into his imagination - a place where the natural world is one of the main characters - a place exquisitely evoked with words and phrases to swoon over. Arnott’s writing weaves and swoops through beauty and brutality with ease. I was left breathless with wonder, eagerly anticipating his third book.

  • Flames was shortlisted for the 2019 Miles Franklin Award.
  • Awarded the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists for 2019.
  • Winner of the Margaret Scott Prize 2019 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes.
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 NSW Premier's Literary Award.
  • Shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Award.
Favourite Quotes:
Thunder crashed through the walls; lightning licked trees; the wind grew fangs and chewed barns into splinters... 
...her body draped over the branches like a nightgown hung out to dry. 
Perhaps if he had been older, he wouldn’t have done it. With more winters in his bones he may have been kinder, less jealous, more contemplative. Or maybe not-inside this boy there was a bitter kink, and perhaps no amount of time or experience could have untwisted it.
Alternative Covers:
UK Cover

US Cover

About Robbie:
  • I'm always fascinated to know how and when writers write. 
  • I discovered this passage on Show Your Working over at Kill Your Darlings. The highlights are mine.
Describe your writing practice?

For the first few days of each week I get up at six and write for an hour and a half, then go to work. I usually finish around six, walk home, have dinner, and write for another hour or so until I can’t think anymore. That routine all goes to shit by the end of the week, though. Thursdays and Fridays I always plan on getting some writing done, but barely do any. I have a solid crack on either Saturday or Sunday, then start all over again.
How do you encourage inspiration to strike?

Whenever I don’t know how to solve a problem I’ve written myself into, or if I can’t think of something interesting to write about, I go for a walk without my phone.

The best advice I think I’ve ever heard came from Michelle de Kretser....She was talking about how plot is important, and character is important, but ‘literature lives in the sentences’. Nothing has ever resonated with me so much. Hearing that made me feel like I had a license to obsess over language.
Favourite or Forget:
  • Unforgettable and a favourite and best read of 2020.

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