Fremantle Press, $27.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781925591187
The discovery of human bones is an intriguing narrative opening that rarely disappoints and seems an adaptable vehicle for the Australian gothic and representations of the impacts of colonisation on people and country. Perhaps this is because the image of curved, white mineral shapes (and the hint of stories fossilised within) contrast equally vividly with sandy coastal plains, central red dust, bleak mountain scarps, and dense green forest.
Amanda Curtin’s The Sinkings (2008) begins with a grisly murder in 1882 and the ‘discovery’ of bones in a remote location near Albany along Western Australia’s south coast. Steve Hawke kicks off The Valley in a similar vein. First the discovery in the present of the bones, which are found ‘with arms folded, at peace’, and then back to 1916 to a murder in a different menacing location named Poison Hole, in the Kimberley. Like The Sinkings, The Valley jumps back and forth over a century, focalising through the perspectives of different characters and filling in the back-story through archival material (in this novel, the ‘fragile, yellowed papers: The Last Will & Testament of William Noakes’, the family’s unfortunate patriarch). The result is a multivocal contemplation of the significance of what is found.