A finalist in the Miles Franklin Literary Award for 2018, I just finished Taboo by Kim Scott. This has a much more contemporary feel to That Deadman Dance which is Kim’s other award winning novel, which I read a few years ago. That book is one of the books I will keep on my shelf forever, it had such an impact on me and the language was so beautiful. Taboo was clever in different ways.
The story starts and ends with the opening ceremony of a Peace Park in a small rural town in southern Western Australia, where a massacre had occurred. But the story in between jumps back in time for the lead up to the Peace Park opening for the returning Traditional Owners of the land who had virtually lost their culture, and then back even further to find out how our hero even discovered she was Aboriginal. Tilly – our young hero that has gone through so much, and for whom we have so much hope.
There are many themes, including reconciliation, addiction, violence, family, and coming of age. There is magic, gaol, spirituality, racism, drug-use, and resilience.
The writing is very different to That Deadman Dance, which is why I think I don’t love this book, but it is still brilliant. The writing is a bit hard to follow, because it is bare and jagged. It stops and starts, with small fragments of sentences, and descriptions that are non-traditional. Virtually no one’s appearance and dress is fully described. But the dialogue is brilliant – it is how we speak in real life – however, it doesn’t make the language flow for the reader.
It’s also fairly subtle in the outcome of the story – it’s a small step in the right direction, and leaves us with hope. It’s not a triumph, and because of that it’s realistic. Hundreds of years of harm cannot be undone quickly, and nor can racism and fear. But big changes can happen in individuals, and there are couple of key individuals in Taboo that give me hope as a reader for the future of the characters, the region, and for Australia.
I would highly recommend this book, particularly for someone who needs to be challenged.