In 1883 in the desert environment of the Flinders Ranges in Southern Australia a six year old boy, Denny Wallace, disappears following a storm. This is Australian author Fiona McFarlane’s second novel (there’s also been a prize-winning collection of short stories) and it is very much a character-led ensemble piece with a sizeable cast of fascinating characters.
This is the search for Danny and those involved include his family, the authorities and native trackers. For me, the characters who burn brightest include his fifteen year old sister Cissy, who seems more on the ball than the adults, who borrows a horse from her teacher and is determined to locate her brother; Karl Rapp, a Swedish painter, in search of a perfect sunset; the newly-wed Minna Manning, throbbing with passion whilst her groom Robert, a policeman, is out looking for the boy and the mother, Mary, who waits stolidly at home.
The cast also includes an out of his element vicar; an aborigine whose youth was marked by his excelling in cricket, which no longer seems relevant, and a land-owning woman who yearns for the fur coat of a tracker. We catch up with these throughout the narrative and there are occasional digressions into back stories which often serve to enrich our understanding of these characters.
It is very well-written with the sense of the desert environment strong where long-established livelihoods are threatened by the lack of rain. Plot-wise, it is a little light in dramatic tension but atmosphere, characterisation and description made this a memorable, immersive read.
The Sun Walks Down is published in the UK by Sceptre on 9th March 2023. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.