Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 422 pp, 9781760875169
Tasmanian writer Heather Rose’s fifth adult novel, Bruny, about a joint venture between the Chinese, Australian, and Tasmanian governments, is well timed, given current concerns about the covert infiltration of the Chinese Communist Party into Australia’s universities and given Federal MP Andrew Hastie’s recent warning that Australia should approach its relations with China with care, lest its sovereignty be diminished. Rose’s last novel, The Museum of Modern Love, which in 2017 won the Stella Prize and the Christina Stead Prize, is set in New York. In Bruny, Rose returns to Tasmania where her earlier novels are set. Part political thriller, part family saga, part love letter to Tasmania, this is her most ambitious novel to date. Bruny covers a multitude of issues, including family loyalty, betrayal, corruption, environmental protection, and the rise of China.
The novel opens with a massive explosion that almost destroys a bridge under construction from Tasmania to Bruny Island, famous for its natural beauty and isolation. The bridge, built with Commonwealth money and Chinese steel, has split the local community between those in favour of progress and those afraid it will destroy their idyllic way of life. The explosion occurs three months from the bridge’s completion date. Nobody knows who is responsible.