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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Australian adventure without the 26hour flight
Reading this book on London's South Bank in my lunchtimes, I was transported everyday to the Kimberley region of Australia where this book is set. The heat, the Aussie blokes, the wild women, the traumatised kids and the spirits were all around me - but nothing like the Wind. The Wind is one of the main Voices in this book and to read it on a hot summer's day with the...
Published on 13 July 2003

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spirit Voices in the Outback
One thing about Susan Elderkin - she certainly doesn't stick to tame topics, or believe that as a British writer she should write about Britain. Her first novel 'Sunset over the Chocolate Mountains' (which is on my to read pile) was set in the Mexican desert, this, her second, is set in the West Australian outback, and deals with the lives of Australia's dirt poor, and...
Published on 17 Jan. 2013 by Kate Hopkins


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spirit Voices in the Outback, 17 Jan. 2013
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Voices (Paperback)
One thing about Susan Elderkin - she certainly doesn't stick to tame topics, or believe that as a British writer she should write about Britain. Her first novel 'Sunset over the Chocolate Mountains' (which is on my to read pile) was set in the Mexican desert, this, her second, is set in the West Australian outback, and deals with the lives of Australia's dirt poor, and with the supernatural, in the form of strange aboriginal spirits.

Billy Saint grows up in a tiny, going-nowhere town in the middle of the outback. Much of his schooling comes via correspondence courses on the radio, and he has few friends. His father Stan, a panel-beater, is an amiable drunk, his mother Crystal a languid depressive who constantly wonders why she left Sydney to come to West Australia, and who spends her days day-dreaming and smoking. By the time Billy is a teenager, she's drifted into an affair with Stevo, a handsome half-aboriginal garage proprietor, who, like Stan, enjoys a drink. Billy feels increasingly more at home in the wild and with kangaroos than with people. And his wanderings in the outback attract a strange group of aboriginal spirits who haunt the area round the town, and a mysterious 'spirit child' called Maisie, who befriends Billy, calling him 'Wallamba' (Kangaroo-boy). One day, Maisie persuades the adolescent Billy to take her out deep into the outback - while they are together, something happens which profoundly disturbs Billy, who returns home a changed boy, and soon after leaves the town to go and work as a miner.

A few years later, Billy ends up in hospital, suffering mysterious wounds. He will say little about his injuries (or an incident involving an American tourist that followed) other than that he is pursued by voices. The doctors believe he is mad, but Cecily, a nurse, determines to help Billy, and cure him. But will she manage to before the doctors certify Billy as insane? Meanwhile, back in Billy's home town his mother's affair with Stevo turns out to have unforeseen consequences, and a local tycoon is attempting to transform the town into a tourist spot. And the voices of the spirits remain...

Elderkin brings the harsh life of rural Western Australia brilliantly to life, portraying a town where people are literally clinging on to civilization, often on the breadline, surrounded by landscape of great beauty but also of great harshness. She has some interesting things to say about the treatment of aborigines, and about the behaviour of people in small, almost enclosed communities. And I felt her descriptions of Billy's lonely childhood were very moving and often beautiful. But for me, the story increasingly lost its way. The spirits (not dreamy ghosts, or remnants of a purer society, but coarse, loudmouthed creatures who (with the exception of the mysterious Maisie) love junk food, TV and pop music as much as the town's inhabitants, didn't convince me at all - it was frustrating that we learnt so little about who they had been while they were alive, and I didn't understand why, if they didn't exist, they mysteriously seemed to have a home, furniture, a radio and television - did they have some kind of corporeal being after all? I was also unclear why they were out to get Billy if they kept saying they loved him - or were we meant to believe that Billy had largely invented them? It was all very confusing. And the trouble was that as Elderkin devoted so much time to the spirits, the human characters suffered. We never learn enough about Crystal's affair with Stevo, Stevo's attempt to run away falls completely flat (he heads off to Perth then drifts back a few days later), the whole story of Crystal and Stan and its shocking end are not explored in nearly enough detail (what happens to Stan seemed to me quite melodramatic and not well thought through) and some of the town's other characters such as Estha and Tama are never given enough of the story (though I liked the musician who hears the spirits singing to him, and is later inspired to form a band.) And although Elderkin writes well about life in an Australian mine, and about Billy's growing friendship with Janelle, a single mother of three, Billy himself appears to run out of steam after his adventures with Maisie in the outback - the adult Billy is a rather dull figure, who simply seems to drift through life, with no interests or ambition - even for love, it seems. Indeed, the hopelessness of the situation of just about all the characters, dead or alive, made this rather a depressing read in the end.

I certainly learnt a lot about Australia from this book - and a section of Australian life that I wouldn't have read about from a tourist guide! But I agree with Guardian reviewer Joanna Briscoe, who called this a book easier to admire than to love. It also seems to have exhausted Elderkin's taste for fiction as she hasn't written a novel since.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Australian adventure without the 26hour flight, 13 July 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Voices (Hardcover)
Reading this book on London's South Bank in my lunchtimes, I was transported everyday to the Kimberley region of Australia where this book is set. The heat, the Aussie blokes, the wild women, the traumatised kids and the spirits were all around me - but nothing like the Wind. The Wind is one of the main Voices in this book and to read it on a hot summer's day with the English wind whistling around me, it could have easily have been the Australian wind in this book talking and laughing with me.
The Voices is written from many points of view, I found it unlike anything I've read before. It's a story that you feel priviliged to be reading, to be part of. You feel like you are looking into many lives and they can't see you. It's like you are one of the Voices, a silent one.
In this day of the 'text-book written' novel, it is a rare thing to find a book like this. It is such an original reading experience.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Can you hear the voices, too?, 19 May 2012
This review is from: The Voices (Paperback)
(3.5 stars)

As an adolescent, Billy is most at home out in the bush, watching the kangaroos or collecting stones or - a little later - adventuring with the mysterious Maisie. As an adult, he is admitted to hospital bearing injuries more usually unique to the aboriginals, and in his delirium, explains to a doctor about the voices he has not heard since he was much younger - until recently. The spirits are lethargic, and the wind is restless, but what is Billy to them, anyway?

This original novel, begins with a captivating story, narrated by spirits who are all but invisible to those around them, and a playful, attention-seeking breeze. Billy's childhood hooks the reader; and his beautiful, reluctant mother and his kindhearted but socially awkward father are equally well-rendered. The narrative skips about as playfully as the character of the wind, so it takes a little while to settle into, but Elderkin's unique prose style is a delight to read, full of wry humour and concise imagery, which vividly evoke the Australian outback, a parched wilderness landscape and the life within it.

Unfortunately, some of the playfulness is lost as the novel progresses. Although the characterisation is spot-on throughout, the message the story has set out to convey becomes increasingly heavy-handed and as a result also a little trite. The prose is so enjoyable in and of itself that it is a shame Elderkin could not allow her themes (Australia's treatment of its aborigine communities, and the deterioration of the spirit-world) to emerge more subtly through the characters and their stories, rather than spelling them out quite so literally, on several occasions.

I would certainly look out for more from the same author as she really is a compelling writer with a unique voice, but after a very promising first half, The Voices didn't quite live up to my hopes/expectations. I certainly enjoyed the characters and the wonderful imagery; but in my humble opinion, this novel's worthy aspirations got the better of it, slightly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Voices, 8 Jan. 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: The Voices (Paperback)
This is simply a cracking book. Elderkin creates amazing visual images through her prose that it forces you to pause, take a deep breath and wonder at her talent for painting such stark, beautiful and vast landscapes with so few words. My advice is to read it slowly, take your time to absorb every word because this is a book you won't want to end.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the colours of this novel, 18 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: The Voices (Paperback)
This novel showed me things I'd never seen and took me places I'd be scared to go. Elderkin describes those things the eye can see with real intensity, and gets an invisible world waving at you too. Poetic, challenging, and with a fine balance of expectation and surprise. It drew me in completely.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating., 17 Jun. 2011
By 
Jo (Cornwall) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Voices (Paperback)
From the very first page I was completely enchanted by the mischevious wind which carried me on and on, deeper and deeper. This is a haunting novel, unusual and imaginative, and so beautifully written you can almost feel the heat of the desert seeping into your bones. An absolute treat.
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The Voices
The Voices by Susan Elderkin (Paperback - 4 Dec. 2009)
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