Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 334 pp
A child of nine is taken to Sydney for the first time to visit her mother, a patient at the Coast Hospital lazaret. Upon arrival, she learns that she, like her mother, has leprosy. Her fate is fixed from that day; she will live the remainder of her life in the lazaret. She takes the new name of ‘Alice’ to hide her former self, and the world closes in upon her. There will be no more school, no playing with her younger brothers and sisters, no friends of her own age, no prospect of romance, no hope of freedom.
Only the sea, the protected bay, and the wild, beautiful coast let her know she is alive. Bathing in stinging salt water, picnicking on the sandy shore, or taking a boat out in quest of fish or adventure might almost feel like freedom, were it not for the confinement and repetitive monotony, the bodily decay of leprosy, and the lurking presence of death.