Peter Pierce reviews 'When Colts Ran' by Roger McDonald

When Colts Ran

by Roger McDonald

Vintage, $32.95 pb, 352 pp, 9781864710410

Between the wars, the dominant mode of Australian fiction was the saga: tales of land-taking and nation-building, melodramas within families across generations, characters shaped by loneliness and obsession, struggles against fire, flood, and drought, and the anguish of married life. In the fiction of Eleanor Dark, ‘M. Barnard Eldershaw’, Xavier Herbert, ‘Louis Kaye’, and Brian Penton among others, Australia’s history was written (this before the professionalisation of the academic discipline of History). It was the saga tradition that Patrick White reworked in The Tree of Man (1955), as did Colleen McCullough in The Thornbirds (1977). In recent decades, this territory has been ceded to the television miniseries, with some notable exceptions: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2006) and now the triumph of Roger McDonald’s When Colts Ran, whose cast acts against the backdrop of the national story from the early 1930s to the near present.

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Published in November 2010, no. 326
Peter Pierce

Peter Pierce

Peter Pierce is an Honorary Professor at Monash University. He recently edited The Cambridge History of Australian Literature and has been chief judge of the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Fiction for the past four years. Among his other books are From Go to Whoa: A Compendium of the Australian Turf; Australian Melodramas: Thomas Keneally's Fiction; and The Country of Lost Children.

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