Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Book Review: THE CRYING PLACE by Lia Hills

The Crying Place

Author: Lia Hills
Allen & Unwin
February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

A stunning literary debut that takes the reader into the mysteries and truths that lie at the heart of our country.
In the rear vision, the road was golden and straight and even, its length making sense of the sky, of the vast black cloud that was set to engulf it. I pulled over and got out. Stared at it, this gleaming snake - where I'd been, where it was going. The route that Jed had once taken.

After years of travelling, Saul is trying to settle down. But one night he receives the devastating news of the death of his oldest friend, Jed, recently returned from working in a remote Aboriginal community. Saul's discovery in Jed's belongings of a photo of a woman convinces him that she may hold the answers to Jed's fate. So he heads out on a journey into the heart of the Australian desert to find the truth, setting in motion a powerful story about the landscapes that shape us and the ghosts that lay their claim.

The Crying Place is a haunting, luminous novel about love, country, and the varied ways in which we grieve. In its unflinching portrayal of the borderlands where worlds come together, and the past and present overlap, it speaks of the places and moments that bind us. The myths that draw us in. And, ultimately, the ways in which we find our way home.

My thoughts:

Time stands still for Saul when he receives the phone call that will tear his whole world apart – his best friend Jed, who is like a brother to him, is dead, believed to have committed suicide. His last contact with Jed was a short message on his phone after Jed’s return from a remote Aboriginal community where he’d been working: “Where are you?” He never got the chance to speak to him again. Racked by grief and guilt for not realising that Jed may have been in trouble, Saul embarks on a mission to retrace Jed’s last steps, which leads him to the remote community of Ininyingi, located off the map in the centre of Australia near the western border of the Northern Territory. There he meets Nala, the woman Jed claimed he loved more than anything in the world. What happened to Jed to make him leave all that behind and lead him on the path to his own destruction?

The Crying Place is a deep, contemplative novel with writing so evocative that it will instantly transport you to a faraway place in the heart of the country, where primal laws still apply and ancient spirits roam free. Or, in Hills’ own words: “where two worlds overlap.” Getting lost in its pages is like a homecoming, a consolidation of feelings not often acknowledged in our Western society. It is raw and confronting, and will challenge you to look deep inside your heart to question everything you believe. Who are we, but an extension of our friends, our family, our ancestors? Jed saw his girlfriend Nala as “his world”. Similarly, the world is a different place for Saul without Jed, as if a piece of himself was missing. There is love that runs so deep that losing that person is like giving away part of your own soul. In a society which tends to sweep the issue of death and dying under the carpet, Saul has no grounding to deal with his own grief over the loss of a friend that had been like a brother to him.

Lia Hills’ The Crying Place resonated with me on many levels. Suicide is a terrible tragedy in any society. For the loved ones left behind, there is not only grief to deal with, but also a heavy burden of guilt, of wondering if the death could have been prevented, if there had been anything they should have said or done. Also, our expectation for people to show a stiff upper lip and “just get on with it” after the funeral is over rarely does justice to the terrible pain of loss that sits deep in our bones, sapping our energy, leaching the joy out of every day.

“I owed it to Jed to understand what had happened to him. Do justice to the life we’d led. A neat funeral wouldn’t have cut it. Not even close.”

In a society where family and community ties are slowly getting lost, be it through geographical or generational distance, death is a lonely, sad affair, with few outlets for the sheer hopelessness the ones left behind can be experiencing. As Saul is being introduced to an ancient way of dealing with death and grief, he is enabled to find his own way to lay Jed’s spirit to rest, to move on and find a kind of peace within his own soul.

Hill’s beautiful lyrical writing was a pleasure to get lost in and managed to create a vivid picture of the outback setting and its people she describes with such grace and insight. Similarly, Saul’s voice created a gritty reality in my mind that became as vivid to me as if I had walked in his footsteps myself, felt his despair.

This book will resonate with anyone who has ever lost a loved one, where the grief sat so deep that physical pain was preferable to the emotional agony experienced. But despite this, it is also a story of hope, of moving on, of laying the spirits of the dead to rest and finding peace. A beautiful and insightful story, very much recommended.


 No man burdened with guilt ever set a sure foot into the future.

“Places like this – there’s nowhere to hide from the light.”

Time’s like a concertina. One minute it’s all stretched out before you, then suddenly it folds and collapses on itself.

We make a country of the people we love.

Thank you to the publisher Allen & Unwin and Bookstr for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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