“Blood” by Tony Birch

“Will you be ready for it, Jesse? When the storm comes? You remember what I’ve told you. Sometimes you can stay out of trouble, and other times you have to step up.”

In a book that is compelling and real, Tony Birch has captured the issues facing Australia right now.

Veering across a dusty, parched landscape “Blood” follows thirteen-year-old Jesse and his sister Rachel as they are tugged from home to home by their unstable mother Gwen. Jesse shies away from the notions of home and family, avoiding disappointment, while Rachel clings to it, desperately trying to find something solid. As the clouds gather, waiting to unleash a flood over the barren landscape, these two characters race towards an uncertain end, praying that something will save them.

Birch deftly ties the landscape into the story, drawing an unshakable parallel between character and country. But this doesn’t feel like an awkwardly ‘Australian’ book – the kind where barren paddocks are overpopulated with gum trees, alienating suburban readers whose ‘Australian’ experience is more concrete jungle than cattle station. Instead, the Australia that we are presented with in “Blood” is one that will ring true to all readers, as the displaced characters are pulled from outback to suburbia and back again, staying often on the fringes of ‘civilisation’, but in places which are unmistakably Australian.

Jesse and Rachel are heartbreaking and real as they flicker between hope and despair, but the secondary characters that people this novel shine just as strongly. Jon especially – the tattooed ex-con and Pop – Gwen’s lonely, ex-alcoholic father are incredibly layered characters who are surprising and honest in their complexities. It is impossible to love or hate either of these characters, as both have seen their share of suffering both as the victim and the cause. Even Gwen, who is a hopeless and selfish mother is flawed in a way that is easy to empathise with, especially when you realise that she was once in a very similar situation to her own children.

Images of thunder, clouds and rain on the dry and dusty landscape are prevalent throughout the book, and the metaphor of the oncoming storm is perfectly handled, making it poetic rather than heavy handed. Each of the elements in “Blood” are perfectly measured and blend with an ease that is a joy to read.

Reading “Blood” is like waiting for the storm itself, and as the tension builds to breaking point, it is almost a relief when the skies crack open and the deluge begins.

Read an interview with Tony Birch at the Readings Website.

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