Review – Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett

This is my first taste of Sonya Hartnett’s writing and her 11th novel (published in 2000) – no mean feat for a then 32 year old.  Thursday’s Child is set in rural Australia during the Great Depression although the environment is somewhat generic with little to identify it as antipodean apart from a few sundry references to plant life and some place names.   However, this is, first and foremost, a novel about people rather than place.

The story is narrated by Harper Flute with the Thursday’s Child of the title being her younger brother “Tin James Augustus Barnabas Flute, he was, born on a Thursday and so fated to his wanderings, but we called him Tin for short”.  Her other siblings are Caffy, her youngest brother and her older brother and sister, Devon and Audrey.  Not only are the name choices quirky but so is the fact that Tin becomes a feral child living in a series of subterranean tunnels and that his parents barely bat an eyelid!  As Tin merrily excavates his way underground, literally, his parents, meanwhile, stick their heads in metaphorical sand as they blithely go about life, barely eking out a living on their soldier settlement.  The father, ex soldier,Court, knows nothing about farming and doesn’t seem interested in learning so he hunts rabbits most of the time whilst his family and home degenerate around him.  The mother doesn’t contribute much either and it seems that Audrey and Harper are the mother figures here with Harper taking the most interest in Tin and his exploits.

This is a novel for Young Adults so I suppose the author can be forgiven for having a certain lack of depth to her characters but I feel it had so much potential as a novel for all ages.  Lots of philosophical questions are raised like how small and fragile human beings are when pitted against nature and how, if we’re not careful, lethargy can swallow us up just like the earth consumed Tin and others.  It’s a coming of age story, with moments of brilliance in its deeply lyrical narrative.  The overall tone is sadness as the family disintegrates under the weight of grinding poverty.  You feel that Harper has grown as a result of all this turmoil but at what cost?

There is an ethereal, mystical quality to Sonya Hartnett’s writing which has really impressed me.  Part of me wishes the setting could have been more distinct but I guess the indeterminate background serves to highlight the Everyman element of this tale as poverty is universal and doesn’t recognise geographical borders!  I will most definitely be on the look out for more from this author.

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  2. Violet says:

    I’ve only read Butterfly, Hartnett’s latest, which I liked a lot. She’s certainly been prolific, and has won a swag of awards in Australia for her writing.

  3. admin says:

    Thank you Violet. I’ve had that one on the radar since you mentioned it to me recently – I only wish there were 10 of me to have enough time to read all the books I want to read! Perhaps the world couldn’t cope with 10 of me!! ;-)

  4. Shayne says:

    I just finished this book, and I enjoyed it immensely. I do have a question if I may, would you call this a distinctively Australian novel? Could it be set in any other country?

  5. admin says:

    I think it could be set anywhere rural but it reminds me a lot of novels set in mid America.

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