When Christian White appeared on ABC breakfast to discuss his debut novel, The Nowhere Child, I was immediately struck by not only his humbleness, but about how he spoke about the craft of writing. Then, of course, there was the summary he gave of his novel. I confess, I was hooked, and wasted no time downloading The Nowhere Child, anticipating with no small degree of excitement what I might discover (another great novelist and tale).
I was not disappointed.
This story about a young woman, Kim Leamy, who is approached by an American man on the streets on Melbourne, is marvellous and utterly gripping. The man tells Kim he believes she is actually Sammy Went, a girl who was kidnapped from her home, Manson, in Kentucky 28 years earlier. Refusing at first to credit such an implausible notion, as she begins to delve into the possibility, everything Kim thought she knew, about herself, her family and her past is suddenly thrown into doubt.
Left with no choice, Kim/Sammy must now go backwards in time, to the place this man believes she originated from to confront what might be her past in order to reclaim her present and her future. But the past is a dark place filled with secrets, some of which should never be disturbed…
Segueing between “then” and “now”, the USA and Australia, as well as moving between first person PoV and third person, this is a masterfully plotted, beautifully characterised novel that draws the reader into not only small-town life with its strange folk, customs and religious devotees, but also into what makes and breaks a family. Able to move the reader between places and times with ease, White paints a picture of different kinds of family life, tragedy, grief, confusion, tolerance and intolerance, loss and guilt so well.
Particularly fascinating (and repellent) were the strange religious cult (who refuse to embrace that name) that have a peculiar hold over the township – even of those who don’t approve of or believe in its practices.
Eerie at times, always plausible and with some excellent twists, this is such an accomplished book (with a simply lovely Author’s Note and Acknowledgments). I am really looking forward to what White produces next. Highly recommended.