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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly uneasy read
World War I has ended and Quinn Walker returns to the small Australian town he ran away from so many years ago. He ran from a nightmare. Accused of murder and rape, of his own sister. Returning home to a town that wishes him dead, he hides in the hills and befriends an orphan girl.

Womersley's prose paints the perfect picture of the world inside these pages. It...
Published on 4 Jan 2012 by Curiosity Killed The Bookworm

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Haunted but not haunting
Quinn is a haunted man: once by his sister's blood on his hands (and his knowledge of what happened to her before her death) and again by his experiences in the Great War. Returning home 10 years after running away from Sarah's murder and the accompanying accusations, Quinn seeks redemption, but also fears for his own life at the hands of those who once knew him. Hiding...
Published on 12 July 2012 by neverendings


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly uneasy read, 4 Jan 2012
By 
Curiosity Killed The Bookworm (Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
World War I has ended and Quinn Walker returns to the small Australian town he ran away from so many years ago. He ran from a nightmare. Accused of murder and rape, of his own sister. Returning home to a town that wishes him dead, he hides in the hills and befriends an orphan girl.

Womersley's prose paints the perfect picture of the world inside these pages. It is fairly concise, not one of those overly descriptive tomes but the words seem to be spot on, from the light falling in his mother's room to the smells of the Australian bush.

The relationship between a grown man and a pre-pubescent girl, whilst touch at time, does give the novel a sense of unease. That the idea of child abuse is placed in your mind in the first few pages and there are constant reminders of the accusations against Quinn, makes it hard not to doubt him. The character of Sadie is quirky, strong and yet vulnerable underneath, yet I found myself unable to connect to Quinn. For the horrors he has seen both at home and in war, I would expect more raw emotion but Bereft is an oddly quiet account.

Bereft was awarded ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year and Indie Award for Best Fiction Novel in 2011 and has been shortlisted for numerous other Australian prizes.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cracking Australian Fiction, 4 Jan 2012
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
Many historical fiction titles tend to take the reader back quite a way time wise so that you're clear of anything within living memory (although this setting is close to being outside that remit) so when this title from Chris arrived I really was looking forward to it to read a story set with a character suffering the aftermath of the effects of time within the trenches of the first world war. What Chris' writing does is take the reader to a setting that is almost cinematic with a principle character that you can not only imagine but see as if they were flesh and blood.

Add to this a wonderful story which whilst quite short, fulfils the key points for me as a reader with a solid character, well thought out description and an overall arc that presents a tale that keeps you interested from start to finish. All in this is a wonderful read and whilst I think it may be missed by a lot of others it's well worth your time to search it out. Great stuff.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does not allow you to wait for the resolution until the next reading, 9 May 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
Chris Womersley is award-winning Australian journalist and writer whose work has, among other things, recognized by the fact that in his writings in the center of his narrative (and therefore interpretation) sets the area of Australia, the physical cruelty of the continent and the interweaving of diverse ethnic groups, as well as their joint creation history. ‘Bereft’ is the novel in which the dependence and vulnerability of the characters as opposed to space is brought to the limit; space determines their existence which is directly reflected in their mutual relations.

Story begins with the cruel murder of twelve years old Sarah Walker; at the time when her father finds her, next to her he noticed his son and her older brother Quinn in clothes covered by blood with a knife in his hand. The beginning of the story is captivating in its style, powerful and poetic in many ways supporting the thesis of many that Womersley writing is more than comparable to that of Cormac McCarthy.

Quinn, visibly shocked and distraught, instinctively flees and never returns to the isolated mining town of Flint. Despite his departure story continues its life, getting new details and versions, or as the narrator said: Over the years, the city dwellers satisfy their urge to make something of the scattered pieces. They made short story as someone makes a blanket or quilt - a rumor here, the assumption there - until the story of the rape and murder of Sarah Walker has not become history, with a beginning, middle and the end.

In the year 1919, three months after Quinn's mother received a telegram that he was killed on the battlefield in France, (expected) twist happens - Quinn is on his way home. Reason and objectives of his return, of course, will be gradually revealed while we witness the unfolding of the story itself. Damaged both mentally and physically, we are getting to know Quinn better through his inner monologue and contemplation about the war and those who he encountered. Throughout the novel in retrospective narration he tells of the horrors of war, individual events, his emotional states and emotional states of his comrades. Condemnation of war (not only) in those parts of the text is obvious, as well as condemnation of the incredible amount of neglecting troops experienced after war completion. For Quinn, the return from the war is much more gruesome than the original departure - discouragement, helplessness and sadness become an indispensable part of everyday life, suicides of people around are continuing after the return, and the competent institutions insufficiently strong and with absurd arguments refuse to provide any help. Womersley shows us clearly and in a unique way show awareness and the feelings of the person who witnessed the suffering and chaos, but not resorting to clichés or pathos; reality is his tool in the construction of description and atmosphere.

Arriving on the continent Quinn does not find better situation; poverty is pervasive, and almost every second person infected with Spanish flu. Nevertheless, he decided to hide far from his family home until deciding what should actually be done. His intention to stay far from people quickly disrupts the appearance of unusual and mysterious girl Sadie Fox, a girl incredibly similar to his murdered sister. In creating this relationship, once again was manifested Womersley brilliant style, but also the intention of maintaining the tension of the story until the last page. After their introduction, the story with lightning speed is moving forward.

‘Bereft’ is a kind of manifesto that condemns any, even the smallest form of violence, regardless of how and in what way it was conducted. Pain, suffering and survival are three motifs which Womersley uses frequently in his text, and although the war is "ideal" environment for verbal conflicting with violence, he draws attention to the many other social problems, of which the abuse of children is placed in the focus of investigation.

Chris Womersley language manages to fully engage and even somehow virtually manipulate the reader – depending on how the atmosphere is changing, the reader's mood will change as well - you will notice that you are passing through all the emotional stages of deep sympathy, fear, anxiousness, anger and even resignation. Indeed, a small number of contemporary artists manage to create such a sickening atmosphere in isolated areas of the continent among equally tormented population and make the reader feel as personally present, and all those injustice and violence personally concern us.

From feelings of deep sympathy and sorrow up to the indignation, this novel does not allow you to wait for the resolution until the next reading – it manages to convince you that it was your responsibility to be with Sadie and Quinn and find answers that are so masterfully hidden.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Quinn was suspended in the cooling amber of memory. It was a queasy brew of longing and regret.', 9 May 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
Quinn Walker returns to the small town of Flint, in New South Wales, Australia, in 1919, after fighting in World War I. He had left his hometown ten years earlier under a dark cloud, running away from his home and family after being accused of a terrible crime. Now returned, he bears the physical and mental scars of his years in the war, and hides out in the hills surrounding Flint, looking out over the town, pondering his life as it is now, and why he has returned to this place. He meets a young girl in the hills, Sadie Fox, who seems to have a deep knowledge and understanding of what it is that Quinn fears. Gradually a connection grows between the pair, and Quinn is moved to action.

After reading only a few pages of Bereft, I was impressed with the author's beautiful use of language. It is an atmospheric story, and in many ways a dark read. The years spent fighting in the war have made their permanent mark on Quinn, and as he lurks in the hills over Flint, he is overtaken by memories and visions of the trenches, imagining that a fellow soldier has appeared alongside him, then moments later, realising he is alone, that it was just his mind playing tricks.

'It was odd to be alone. During the war he grew used to the press of many bodies, to the whiff of other men and their whispering hearts of fear. They were a brotherhood of terror huddled in the trenches...He didn't fear death. He imagined there were few miseries he hadn't experienced...'

The author writes starkly and honestly about the realities facing the men, like Quinn, returning from the war, damaged, battered by their experiences, injured and exhausted; '...their unguarded selves were delicate, unwieldy creatures beneath their uniforms...No wonder so many millions of them died: men are nothing when thrown into the machine of history.' As the world is just waking up to what is left after the War, the flu epidemic strikes.

Then young Sadie appears one day in the hills, and Quinn's encounters with her have an almost magical element, as she claims to know what Quinn has been saying even when she wasn't present, so that 'he was no longer sure what to believe. It seemed equally that all things were possible and also that very little was.' Further, Sadie 'always showed up when he needed her.' They are united in their loneliness and in their need to hide away, waiting and wandering in this remote place, and an unusual but innocent companionship develops.

There are some very touching moments in the story as Quinn gently reestablishes a relationship with his mother. As he revisits the wretched place where the terrible event occurred that has shaped his life, he wishes it possible that the truth could just show itself, 'if only the darkness would speak.'

I was drawn into this story from the start, and Quinn came to life in my mind, a fully formed character, the way his experiences and feelings are described, the reader is there with him and can feel what horror he has endured in the trenches during the war, and how he bears the weight of his past, the terrible knowledge he has carried since he was that young boy who ran away. We also get a feel for the location, the rural bush town of Quinn's birth, where everyone knows everyone else's business.

This is a beautifully written historical literary novel, which is fairly short by today's standards, with an engaging, at times mysterious storyline that gets the reader thinking. At once a sorrowful yet redemptive story of tremendous grief, regret and loss, and of love, survival and belief, this is a book I would definitely recommend, and I am glad to have been introduced to this writer; this is an author whose work I would return to. 4.5/5
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Australian Fiction!, 24 Feb 2012
By 
Nikki-ann - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
In 1919, a soldier of the Great War, Quinn Walker returns to Australia where the Spanish flu epidemic is raging. He is drawn back to Flint, a small town in New South Wales from where he fled ten years previously having been accused of murder. The townsmen, including his own father and uncle, have never forgiven him and have vowed to hang him should he return. Aware of this, Quinn keeps to the town's surrounding hills, unsure of what to do next.

A young girl named Sadie Fox finds Quinn above the town and a bond is formed. Sadie seems to know, and share, Quinn's darkest fear. In fact, she seems to know a lot. With Sadie's help, Quinn learns the only way he can lay his past to rest.

Bereft is written in third-person narrative, subjectively following Quinn's actions and train of thought. Quinn is damaged by the Great War, not just physically but mentally too, and we follow him back to his hometown where his survival is dependant on not being seen. His memories of what happened in Flint ten years earlier and of what happened during the Great War are never far away.

Sadie's discovery of Quinn sparks an unusual, if slightly uneasy, relationship between him, a veteran of the Great War, and her, a lone young orphan girl. Some might call their relationship "odd", and to some extend it is, but it is an entirely innocent one. They see each other as the one they miss.

Despite it being such an atmospheric, haunting and grim story, Bereft is beautifully written, but it did have me wondering at times if certain things were real. Bereft is not a "whodunnit" (as I think that part is pretty obvious early on), but makes for compelling reading with its story of survival, guilt and grief. The story slowly gathers pace until it reaches its climax and it, perhaps, borders both literary and crime fiction. It certainly isn't your standard crime thriller, it's thoughtful and deeper with its story of human tragedy, consequences of actions and regret.

All in all, Bereft is a good read and one I'd certainly recommend to anyone looking for some great Australian fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And the band played Waltzing Matilda, 8 Nov 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bereft (Kindle Edition)
Quinn Walker was only a boy when he was discovered standing over the dead and defiled body of his sister Sarah, deep in the Blue Mountains in 1909. Quinn ran away and was never seen again; had anyone in the village caught him he would have been strung up. Few shed any tears, then, when Quinn was reported to have died in the First World War.

Now, in 1919, Quinn's mother Mary lies on her deathbed, enduring the Spanish Flu that is sweeping the country. Perhaps as she reconciles her life, she remains troubled by the incidents of ten years ago. She knew that Quinn and Sarah had started to become "inappropriate", but she can't bear the thought that she lost two of her three children that day. If only she could see them both for one last time...

Miraculously, then, Quinn reappears having apparently escaped the War with severe facial injuries, but escaped nevertheless with his wife. So Quinn decides he wants to see his family again, even if it has to be from a distance, peeking through the windows at night. One wrong step and he will be recognised and lynched, so it is a good fortune indeed that he is helped by Sadie Fox, a young girl trying to avoid being packed off to an orphanage following the death of her parents.

Chris Womersley creates a tension. The fear of capture is palpable, but pales against the fear as the true secrets of 1909 are revealed. We find a community that is on the edge of survival, battling the forests, the elements, being built out of rocks and logs. The community cannot afford division; cannot afford scepticism. If bad things happen, the most convenient solution will be favoured.

The writing in Bereft is luminous. The beauty of the bush shines through from the pages. The love and affection and loyalties are conveyed with just a few, perfectly chosen words. The story manages to convey ambiguity and magical realism without any apparent effort. The story switches time periods; switches from global to local and back to global without missing a beat. Every character is carefully drawn, nuanced with shades of grey. We have deep questions of identity; we have the horrors of war.

And, as the narrative progresses, the true nature of the story gradually emerges. This is chilling, spine-tingling. It takes what would have been an excellent novel to a whole new dimension.

It is difficult to explain just how good Bereft is without exposing its secrets. But fortunately, it is not a slow-burner; there's no time wasted in warming up. It's fantastic from the first sentence and it just keeps getting better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book that is undermined by unanswered questions, 19 Jan 2013
This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
It's really difficult to score this book, and on balance I'm going for 3.5 stars with the benefit of rounding it up to 4. The reason is that Bereft is a extremely well written novel with vivid language and a plot that creates a strong sense of intrigue and tension. But the elements of the book that make it stand out in such a way are never actually explained and are never brought to a conclusion in the end, which undermines what came before.

Just to put that into some context, as a 16 year old boy Quinn Walker flees from his home town after being wrongly accused of the rape and murder of his sister. But he knows who did commit that heinous crime. He returns to his hometown 10 years later after fighting in the Great War, knowing that the townspeople (including his father) will kill him if they find out about his return. Whilst in the hills surrounding the town he comes across and befriends a young orphan called Sadie Fox, who has an impossible knowledge of just about everything to do with him and the town, including the facts surrounding his sister's murder.

It is essentially the character of Sadie, along with what she knows and what she does, that creates this intriguing and unsettling atmosphere throughout the book. And it is no secret that there is a heavy supernatural element to her behaviour. But the problem is that the book simply never explains how it is that she has this extensive knowledge, and how it is that she seems able to do and predict the impossible.

It would be wrong to say that it spoils the book, because it clearly doesn't, and the strength of the writing generally is there irrespective of the strength of the ending. But what it does do is leave a glaring question entirely unanswered, and whilst that is not always a bad thing, I tend to feel that it usually is, and I certainly think it is in this case. It makes me think that the author doesn't in fact know the answer to the question, but whatever the explanation it leaves a lingering sense of dissatisfaction mixed in with all the positive feelings about the book.

And that's it really. Bereft shows some fantastic writing and descriptive ability that kept me enthralled until the end. Unfortunately the end didn't provide the closure that it needed to, leaving me with somewhat mixed feelings about a book that undoubtedly still has a lot going for it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical writing....transforms the brutality, 4 Feb 2012
By 
Amy Henry (United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
It's the story of Quinn Walker, who leaves home suddenly and under suspicion when his sister is murdered. He joins Australia's efforts in WWI, travels the world, and returns with a dangerous desire to go back to the small town that would love to string him up for the crime.

Injured in the War, he suffers from the loss of a portion of his face, injuries from the mustard gas, and all the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At points early on, it's easy to question whether he is recounting events correctly, or if he's hallucinating, and these ratchets up the tension since either way, it affects his actions. The small town of Flint has suffered during wartime as well, as the Spanish Flu has killed many, and this scarred stranger (as he disguises himself) is not welcomed.

Hiding in the hills, he eventually meets a young girl who, significantly, is the age that his sister was when died. She's been orphaned by the flu, and is essentially a feral animal that refuses the very protection it most needs. They make an unlikely and bickering duo, and the details she knows of his sister's murder are disturbing. As he struggles with reality, his injuries, and the impending death of his mother, he's also trying to figure out a way to clear his name, aided only by this little girl who seems to encourage violence with a sinister air.

Or is she? Or is he imagining it? Is he tormented by guilt? What he saw in the War? Where does his reality begin, and the hallucinations end?

This is one book I stayed with an entire long afternoon, and was completely (enjoyably) immersed in the tension and the scenery. Womersley writes descriptively but without sounding like he's rattling off a list of details....the descriptions somehow mingle into the narrative. A bit of clumsy foreshadowing early on led me to guess the plot fairly easily, but the author still threw in some unexpected twists and complications. The characters of Quinn and Sadie are complicated and compelling; the other main characters a bit more stereotypical (one a generic bad guy). The beauty of it is in the prose: concrete, detailed, yet fast-paced. There's suspense in every interaction between Quinn and Sadie, which is really hard to pull off. Realistically, guessing the plot was irrelevant--the creation of unique characters is where the author's gift is clear.

Womersley has a previous book, The Low Road, that I will look for next. He reminds me a tiny bit of Tim Winton in the apparent knowledge of the Australian landscape and its feature, but their voices are completely different. I wouldn't be surprised if this novel was someday made into a film...it has all the elements that would make a suspenseful and visually beautiful film.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Haunted but not haunting, 12 July 2012
This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
Quinn is a haunted man: once by his sister's blood on his hands (and his knowledge of what happened to her before her death) and again by his experiences in the Great War. Returning home 10 years after running away from Sarah's murder and the accompanying accusations, Quinn seeks redemption, but also fears for his own life at the hands of those who once knew him. Hiding in the hills, he is befriended by an edgy and curious young girl, Sadie, who convinces him that he needs to avenge his sister's killer in order to move on with his life. But can he first tell his ailing mother the truth, and is he really capable of murder?

There are many ghosts in this short novel, most of them still living. Quinn himself is hollow after his experiences, and there are moments when Sadie and Sarah are confused in his mind. Quinn's mother is floating on the cusp between two worlds, and his father is a bystander, relegated to the veranda, where he is safe from the sickness.

Womersley's prose is simple but descriptive, perfectly capturing Quinn's beleaguered spirit, although (for me) not quite the stifling and oppressive expansiveness of the Australian sky. There was much scope for ambiguity which I feel Womersley failed to capitalise on, and instead the narrative moves on quickly, yielding few surprises. We know quite early on who are the `goodies' and who are the `baddies', and, without any true spoilers, let me assure you that despite Quinn's damaged background, the ending is `hopeful'.

This book did not `take my breath away' as a cover quote suggested it might, nor did it get under my skin. Despite the potentially intriguing friendship between Quinn and the quixotic, mysterious Sadie, there was ultimately a lack of tension or depth as the story proceeded towards its more or less inevitable ending without really scraping the surface of its characters or themes. Although very readable, this book will not haunt me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual story, 3 July 2014
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This review is from: Bereft (Paperback)
Strange story read for my book club
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Bereft by Chris Womersley
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