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Swimming on Dry Land

Helen Blackhurst
Publication Date: 
Thursday, November 12, 2015
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‘Blackhurst’s prose is so vivid that the reader can almost taste the dust and feel the unrelenting heat’ – Books Ireland


Set in a small fictional mining town in south-west Australia, Monica Harvey, a twelve-year-old English girl, is looking for her younger sister, Georgie.  The Harvey family has recently moved to Akarula, having been persuaded to set out in search of a new life by their rich Uncle Eddie, who owns the town.  Monica discovers Georgie down one of the disused mine shafts but when she returns later that day with her father and Uncle Eddie, Georgie has disappeared.   

It becomes clear that Georgie’s is not the first disappearance in the town. Eddie, a self-made money-man – a dreamer whose main concern is to save his beloved town – has thus far concealed the disappearances from his brother, Michael. But as the search for Georgie widens, the pressure intensifies and Eddie’s dream-like vision of his town gradually implodes. Mr M, the only aborigine left in Akarula, sees it all from his seat under the town’s single tree, giving rise to local superstition and fears.

As the history of the land unfolds new possibilities and answers to the mysterious disappearances slowly suggest themselves.


Review by Claire Looby, Irish Times

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Michael and Caroline Harvey relocate from England with daughters Monica and Georgie to a remote Australian mining town, running away from a life that is broken, as much as towards one that could heal them.

The town’s founder, Michael’s brother Eddie, has ambitions for a real community where people thrive and raise families, but the reality is that this can only be a half-town at best. Then little Georgie Harvey goes missing while playing hide-and-seek with her sister. This is the third such unexplained disappearance in the town and the ferociously practical townspeople search for a child they know they can never find, braving oppressive heat, among the hills and dips of a landscape pock-marked by tunnels, ravaged by brutal opal mining.

Meanwhile, the fate of the town is sealed as the banks foreclose on their houses despite Eddie’s desperate attempts to buy more time. Switching between characters from one chapter to another, Blackhurst deftly navigates the pent-up resentment and damaging disappointment that can lurk in the background of a relationship and sets this tragedy within a breathtaking claustrophobia that is hard to shake off.

Review by Sue Leonard, Books Ireland

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

We move to Australia for the atmospheric debut from Helen Blackhurst. Monica Harvey is moving there with her parents, Michael and Caroline, and younger sister, Georgie. Encouraged to move by Michael’s brother, Monica’s Uncle Eddie, the family are expecting some kind of utopia. Landing in a one-street mining town in the outback is a shock. And that’s before they realise that Eddie has been burying the truth.
Life is tough for Monica. Her father, a journalist with little work, is clearly depressed, and the effervescent Caroline is becoming closer to Eddie than Monica would like. The twelve-year-old is left caring for Georgie, and there’s something not quite right about the little girl. And then, during a game of hide-and-seek, Georgie goes missing.
Blackhurst’s prose is so vivid that the reader can almost taste the dust and feel the unrelenting heat. But it’s her exploration of character that makes this debut shine. Monica narrates the start of the tale, but each of the other characters has a section of their own. This device works well, enabling the plot to be drip-fed to the reader in manageable chunks.
Eddie, so clearly a troubling influence, becomes more layered as the novel progresses. An idealist, he is slow to accept that his big dreams have no foundation.

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