Some books you know are going to be gold seal worthy from very early on, and this was the best metaphysical fiction I’ve ever read. The standard of the prose was excellent, (something for me as a writer to aspire to,) but more than that, the words had insight; they took you somewhere special – outback Australia. True, the physical setting is special, but not only does The Land Beyond Goodbye take you to the weather beaten back blocks of the Northern Territory, it also takes you into the land’s soul, ushered in by the aboriginal magic woman, Rose. One of my favourite lines from Rose is …
White fellah! Always thinkin’ stuff.
The Land Beyond Goodbye is about an English girl (pommie in Aussie lingo) who, as a young woman, spent some time working in an outback pub. Eighteen years have passed since she left and returned to London, but the death of an old friend has called her back. Darcy has left his place to her and she has no idea why? Or does she?
Her return brings back memories, particularly of the men, one in particular. She wonders if he is still around, if they could have had a life together if things had been different. She soon discovers that he’s around, but his life has fallen apart. He killed a man, an accident, of course, a punch up gone wrong, but her old flame, Jamie, spent time inside for manslaughter, and he’d started the fight to protect Jess’s honour. After he came out, he hit the booze big time, threw his life away, they say.
Jess has to go to Darcy’s place to fix up the legalities. Joey worked for Darcy his whole life, but all he gets of the fortune is the house Darcy built for Joey and his wife Sherry. Sherry doesn’t try to hide her hostility and after an argument, Jess, an emotional mess, drives into the bush. The Toyota stops on a road that no one uses and she can’t get it started. She ends up walking, get’s dehydrated, and falls, once, then again. She breaks her shin, thinks she’s going to die, and would have if Rose hadn’t come along and healed her. How? Jess isn’t too sure. It seems like magic, but it can’t be, can it? How could someone like Rose have such healing ability.
Jess is the kind of modern western woman we can all identify with, and the other characters are as well drawn, Rose, as is right for the character in just a few well chosen words. The author writes her as a wise, compassionate person without judgement, and Jess’s time with her cuts through her preconceptions and prejudice in a relatively short space of time.
And then there’s Jamie, Jinjat now; he arrives looking like the alcoholic Jess had been told he’d turned into, but that was a lie, just as, she discovers, her whole life is a lie. Jinjat has been unmade by Rose and her ancestors, stripped of pretensions and made whole. Jess feels stupid around Rose, because Rose says little, but what she does say shows an uncanny perception. At first Jess is repulsed by Jinjat’s appearance, the dirty clothes, the long hair and beard, but the longer she stays in Rose’s bush hut, eating bush tucker, living in the dust, the more her perception changes and she wonders if there could be something between them still.
Rose suggests that Jess needs fixing too. She agrees. Her life seems hollow now, compared to Rose’s wisdom and contentment, her sense of belonging and rightness with the world. But Jess has to go back to her responsibilities when the police are called to look for her. What is she going to do with this property, the mine and the huge amount of cash Darcy left her? But Jess’s time for fixing comes, and it’s no fun, but it works and Jess is remade. Her decision comes not from white fellah thinkin’ but from a place of knowing, made accessible to her by her time with Rose and her meeting with her ancestors, or demons, as Jess considers them.
This is quite simply the best book I have read in a very long time. Beautifully written, it is both an outer and an inner journey, one that captures the beauty and mystery of the outback and the depth of the inner experience that can come from immersing yourself in the rawness and vastness of the landscape, both outer and inner.
On a social level, the author shows clearly the kind of offhanded dismissal that many white Australian’s show for aboriginals, an attitude that arises from an ignorance much greater than that of any unschooled aboriginal. Without romanticizing the aboriginal situation, the story shows how completely we can miss the point. This is primarily a story of transformation and of how inner wealth is more important than outer wealth.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the writing is that, in some places, it actually evokes the state referred to, or perhaps it’s just that I know that place where the material things we usually deem important fade into insignificance.
Undoubtedly, 5 stars and a book that everyone should read, especially Australians.