Quinn Walker returns to his home town of Flint, New South Wales, Australia after terrible experiences in the Great War. He had been forced to leave before the war after being accused of the terrible crime of raping and murdering his own sister, and he is in dire peril if any of the townspeople discover he has come back. He meets a strange girl, Sadie, who is also hiding from others. She is abandoned and alone and so the two hook up together. Sadie keeps people away with weird incantations and spells, and at times it is unclear if she is a real person or a figment of Quinn’s tortured imagination. He is compelled to visit his family home where he reconnects with his sick mother. She is suffering along with many others in the great flu epidemic which was the sting in the tail of the First World War.
There is some excellent evocative writing, as for example, at one point, Womersley describes four drunken soldiers linked together as “like a bizarre spider unaccustomed to its surfeit of appendages”. The power of the tale is in its creation of atmosphere and character rather than plot. The concern here is with the interior minds of the characters rather than exciting events per se, and so it is not for everyone. It is a very different tale, and there are some wonderful moments of imagination and powerful description. Unusual literary fiction.