Published by Fourth Estate, December 2020 | Fiction
Finally, I visited Darwin last week, a long held wish come true. What better holiday read to pull out from my large TBR pile than Trent Dalton’s All Our Shimmering Skies.
Although the city is vastly different from the 1942 Darwin of Dalton’s imaginings, being there gave an extra vibe to the reading joy.
Even more shine was added as we meandered through a local graveyard (pictured) - although it wasn’t Hollow Wood Cemetery, the fictitious home of Dalton’s protagonist, young Molly Hook, the daughter of gravediggers.
It became shinier still as we took in the city’s myriad monuments dedicated to the infamous day just over 80 years ago, on February 19, when a bombing raid by the Imperial Japanese Navy devastated the community and brought World War Two to Australia. This tragedy is central to Dalton‘s story, providing the catalyst that catapults the off-beat 12-year-old Molly away from her insufferable life dominated by her brutish, alcoholic uncle and father.
As we day-tripped out of Darwin, deep into the bush, I imagined it was the same country into which Molly fled after the bombs exploded, as she set out on a quest to find a mysterious Elder who she believes placed a curse on her family.
As Molly’s odyssey unfolds, the bleakness of the opening chapters transforms, taking on an almost mystical quality, ripe with the comical, sensory narrative for which Dalton has become known after bursting onto the global literary scene with Boy Swallows Universe in 2018.
Molly’s story is compelling, although completely over the top!
From the extraordinary ’gifts’ given to her by the sky to aid her quest, to the overly exaggerated characterisation of her motley band of friends (and foes), to the bizarre outcasts that cross her path, very little is believable. (I go as far as to say at times these excesses were even a bit distracting.)
Nevertheless, it’s a wondrous tale, full of allegorical messages about love beating hate and good beating evil, and an homage to the power of hope - particularly the special kind of innocent, inextinguishable hope that only children possess.
Better still, Dalton has wrapped Molly’s story in brazen Australian-ness - the lingo, the flora and fauna, the big skies, the racism, the exploits, the generous spirit. And Darwin is front and centre.
I’ve no doubt my memories of visiting Darwin will forever be suffused with scenes and feelings from Molly Hook’s adventures.