Janette Turner Hospital
"Stories do insist on being told. Even the stories of hidden lives and towns and opal reefs.
"By cunning intention, and sometimes by discreet bribery (or other dispatch) of government surveyors, Outer Maroo has kept itself off maps.
"And yet people do stumble into town, because the seduction of nowhere is hard to resist. All of those who find the place are lost.
"Opal brings most of them. The word itself is like a charm. You can stroke a word like opal. You can taste it. You can swallow it whole, raw and silky, like an oyster, and then Oyster can reel you in.
"There is opal and then there is Oyster.
"Two strangers reach an opal mining town in outback Queensland, searching for a stepdaughter and a son who have mysteriously disappeared. There is a heavy, guilty feel to the hot, parched-dry town. Mercy Given and Old Jess (everyone calls her Old Silence) watch from Ma and Bill Beresford's store. On the verandah of Bernie's Last Chance, the drinkers wait to take stock of the foreigners, before they return to their cattle properties or their sheep stations or to their stake-outs in the opalfields. Dukke Prophet crosses the street from The Living Word Gospel Hall. Young Alice Godwin whimpers.
"Outer Maroo. Population 87. Here two opposing cultures - the rough-diamond, boozing, fiercely individualistic bush folk and the teetotaller, church-going fundamentalists - used to co-exist peaceably.
"Until the arrival of the cult messiah Oyster.
"Janette Turner Hospital has never been stronger, more sensuous or more dangerous than in this magnificent novel."
If rain had come, things might have turned out differently, that is what I think now; but there were children in Outer Maroo who had never seen rain. We prayed. We cursed. We studied the hot empty sky and imagined clouds. We waited. We waited for something to happen, for anything to happen, we were avid for some event to unfold itself out of the burning nothing to save us. We were waiting, as the desperate do, for a miracle.
Unfortunately, we got it.
Then, within the space of a few months, there were more transients than there were locals, and the imbalance seemed morally wrong. There were too many foreigners in Outer Maroo.
There was also, and still, the drought. More than that, perhaps the worst thing. was a sort of mephitic fog, moistureless and invisible, that came and went like an exhalation of the arid earth itself. We gave it a name. We thought, I suppose, in some primitive way, that if we mocked it, it might decamp and leave us alone. Old Fuckatoo, we called it.
From the Knopf hardback edition, 1996.
This novel was shortlisted for the 1997 Miles Franklin Award.
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Last modified: January 26, 2006.