Fourth Estate, $32.99 pb, 256 pp
‘Everyone knows how it ends,’ declares Ruby ‘Red’ McCoy, the fourteen-year-old narrator of Felicity McLean’s second novel, Red. ‘What people are less interested in hearing is how it all got started.’
The ending in question is Ruby’s attempted murder of a police officer, a crime that is heralded from the novel’s outset. In this retelling of the Ned Kelly legend, McLean sets Red apart from existing depictions of the bushranger – from Sidney Nolan’s iconic series of paintings (1946–47) to Peter Carey’s novel True History of the Kelly Gang (2000) and its subsequent punk-infused 2019 film adaptation by Justin Kurzel. She casts the mouthy, cocksure Ruby in the role of Kelly and transports the action to New South Wales’s Central Coast, circa 1989. It is a curious mash-up, though less surprising in the context of McLean’s oeuvre; her 2019 début, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone, similarly fused Gen X nostalgia with the influence of another classic Australian tale, Picnic at Hanging Rock.