All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Grass Castle – Karen Viggers

on February 12, 2014

Grass CastleThe Grass Castle
Karen Viggers
Allen & Unwin
2014, 403p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher/The Reading

Abby is a PhD student living in Canberra researching the movement and habitat of kangaroos. She lives a mostly isolated life in the bush tracking the animals and collecting the research she needs to write her thesis. A tragic event in Abby’s early teens has made her close herself off from the world. She lives away from her family and although she visits, they’re not exactly close. When she meets journalist Cameron, he tries to slip beneath the protective facade that Abby has constructed around herself. She doesn’t ever want to get close to anyone and when she feels as though Cameron might be becoming too much of a fixture in her life, she seeks to distance herself from him.

Daphne grew up on a farm in a valley of the Brindabella Ranges. She then married a farmer and raised her own children there, in a world of horses and cattle and country living. Then the government forced them off their land and Daphne’s husband never really adjusted to the change. Some thirty years later Daphne has moved in with her daughter Pam and Pam’s husband and observes their world of babysitting their grandchildren. Occasionally she likes to visit what’s left of her old homestead, crumbling away now and it is there she meets Abby.

Abby and Daphne strike up an unlikely friendship. Abby feels able to confide in Daphne in a way that she has never with anyone else and Daphne enjoys the company of someone who isn’t part of her family and obligated to spend time with her, even if they don’t mind. Both of them have secrets and need each other’s help to move forward in their lives.

I was quite excited about this book when I began reading it but I have to say, unfortunately it did not live up to my expectations. The two stories of Daphne and Abby who function as dual narrators are interesting enough on their own but there’s a real lack of cohesion in bringing the two together and keeping them there. Abby is such a loner and although she comes across Daphne in a moment of illness and weakness, the friendship they strike up seems very unusual for Abby, given how reticent she is and how little she seems to enjoy spending time around other people. There’s the probability that Daphne reminded Abby of her grandmother, who did a large bulk of raising Abby and Daphne was clearly looking for an ear, knowing that Pam was busy with looking after her various grandchildren but to be honest, I found the scenes between Abby and Daphne extremely dull and on one occasion, more than just a little odd.

There’s a strong theme of conservation and mistakes running through this novel and at times it can feel a little preachy. Daphne’s parents presumably took their land from the Aboriginals (although her father strongly denied it, but in a guilty way) and later on, Daphne and her husband have to surrender their land back to the government for them to establish it into a National Park. Daphne remarks years later that this has been detrimental to the land, that it was better cared for when it was being farmed. The kangaroo numbers were kept down, the scrub was controlled and overall, everything was much better. Yet another government scheme that apparently went wrong. Likewise there’s also the issue of kangaroo culling but what I think it supposed to be presented as a debate falls down. Abby is concerned that the journalist Cameron is presenting his story one sided, which is a big no-no (even though Cameron says that the other side declined to comment). However this book presents the protesters as a bunch of raving lunatics intent on doing physical harm to anyone on the other side. It comes across as a bit sanctimonious and doesn’t really address the contentious issue very well. There’s no denying that kangaroos in large numbers can be pests and the fact that droughts can really strip the areas of their feed. However, they’re also a national icon and the idea of killing them simply because doesn’t sit well with many people, no matter how the scientists present their case. Killing native animals because there are too many of them is not the same as culling rabbits or wild pigs, who are only here because of human intervention. And yet there seems to be no other real workable solution.

The relationship between Abby and Cameron felt extremely underdeveloped and not just because Abby is borderline socially retarded. Abby’s first impression of him is terrible and therefore, the reader’s is too and although this can be overcome with careful and clever writing, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of effort that went into Cameron. He’s basically a good guy making his own way in life against his horrid parent’s wishes but he’s never really fleshed out properly and neither are his feelings for Abby. And because we’re with Abby most of the time, her feelings about Cameron are…distant. She’s not wanting to get involved because of her family history but her inner argument tends to make little sense to me and presumably even less sense to Cameron. The whole thing just felt really odd and awkward and not at all like a tormented relationship. Also, the inclusion of the mysterious “George” was very strange and far, far too convenient for any sort of believability.

I struggled through this one – some parts were interesting to me but they weren’t expanded upon enough. Others were far too embellished and I felt my eyes glazing over and would have to snap out of it and force myself back into reading.


Book #36 of 2014


The Grass Castle is the 13th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014


2 responses to “Review: The Grass Castle – Karen Viggers

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one that struggled with this book, I agree with much of what you said. Seems I should have read Lighthouse Bay instead.

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