UQP, $22.95 pb, 317pp
A few years ago, it seemed that anyone with a personal or family story to tell – even first-time authors – wrote a memoir rather than distilling those experiences into fiction. Think of Kate Shayler’s The Long Way Home (2001) or Sonia Orchard’s Something More Wonderful (2003). Many claimed this was because, at a moment when Australian memoir was resurgent, publishers were not supporting first-time novelists. But the tide may be turning. Recently, a number of autobiographical novels by new writers have appeared, well promoted and capturing the public’s attention, including Sophie Cunningham’s Geography (2004) and now Larissa Behrendt’s Home.
It is significant that Behrendt, a professor of law and indigenous studies at UTS, has chosen to present her family’s story as fiction, especially since Aboriginal women’s autobiography is a well-established genre. Home is a novel, albeit a highly auto-biographical one, that traverses three generations of family history. It opens in the first-person voice of Candice, a city lawyer working on native title claims, who is clearly Behrendt’s alter ego. Candice returns with her father to her family’s ancestral home from where her grandmother, Garibooli, was stolen almost eighty years earlier. The novel then rewinds to that fateful day, capturing its full horror. In essence, the remainder of the book deals with the intergenerational consequences of this crime.