A sunburnt country

A sunburnt country

To Love a Sunburnt Country

by Jackie French

Angus & Robertson, $29.99 pb, 466 pp, 9780732297237

Gillian Dooley

Gillian Dooley

Gillian Dooley is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English at Flinders University, and a Visiting Fellow in the Music Department

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Jackie French, according to the press release for her new adult novel To Love a Sunburnt Country, has written over 140 books in a twenty-five-year career. Many are for children and teenagers. I have only read one other, A Waltz for Matilda (2012), the first in ‘the Matilda Saga’ for teens; but these two books share at least one character and several characteristics.

One of these is size − they both fall only a little shy of 500 pages − and another is that both plunder Australian popular verse: the second and third of the Matilda saga are titled The Girl from Snowy River (2012) and The Road to Gundagai (2013) respectively. All are set in and around the fictional New South Wales town of Gibber’s Creek. Matilda herself, the daughter of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s jolly swagman, is the mother of the heroine’s love interest in this new novel, young Michael Thompson. And the heroine? She is none other than Nancy of the Overflow, the granddaughter of Clancy of that ilk. This Disney-like Australian outback pastiche portends a cheerful banality which sits awkwardly with the grim wartime theme of the latest book. (Dorothea Mackellar, despite providing the title, the tag-line – ‘All you who have not loved her, you will not understand …’ – and the all-pervading sentiment, doesn’t enter the story.)

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