November 9, 2012 7:32 pm

Gradual disillusionment

A haunting, lyrical novel based on the first contact between Europeans and the Noongar people of Western Australia

That Deadman Dance, by Kim Scott, Bloomsbury Circus, RRP£12.99, 416 pages

 

That Deadman Dance is based on the first, tentative contact between European colonists and the Noongar people of Western Australia in the 19th century. Author Kim Scott is of Noongar heritage, and he has woven the stories of his ancestors into a haunting, lyrical novel.

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At its centre is Bobby Wabalanginy, a native child who learns English and becomes useful as a mediator. Bobby befriends the settlers, joining them on whaling trips and teaching them the lay of the land. But as he grows older he begins to notice racial tensions, and Scott sensitively depicts his gradual disillusionment.

One of the recurring themes is that the settlers’ hardscrabble lives leave them no time to stand and stare at the strange beauty that surrounds them. But Scott pays meticulous attention to landscape and nature, and his descriptions are frequently wonderful: whales’ spouts are “silvery bushes blossoming in a great trunk of angled sunlight out there on the wind-patterned sea”.

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