“Because to live on an island isn’t just a location. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s history and sacrifice. It’s a choice to be remote. It’s a kind of metaphor.”
I grew up in Tasmania, Australia’s island state, a place that has become a literary symbol of beauty with something dark hidden in the mist. Mainlanders, a group I now belong to, tend to look down on Tasmania as a dull backward place where nothing much happens except incest, while flying down for short holidays filled with food, wine, bushwalking and a visit to MONA*, the world class art museum built by a local maverick with a fortune made from gambling.
“When you settle for Tassie, you’ve settled for less in some ways; less of what matters out there, more of what matters here.”
Bruny is an island off an island, Tasmania in microcosm, farms, fishing and holiday shacks being displaced by visitors looking for food, wine, empty beaches and a close encounter with a penguin or a potaroo. Accessible only by boat or the car ferry. But in the book, they’re building a bridge, an infeasibly huge $2 billion bridge that makes no sense and has divided the communities at both of its ends. Just before it’s finished someone sets off a bomb and the bridge is damaged but not destroyed.
Bruny is a family story. Astrid (Ace) Coleman is a UN conflict resolution specialist who has left the stifling provincialism of Tasmania behind for New York and the world’s political hotspots. Her older sister Max is Leader of the Opposition, head of the the Labor** party their father represented in Parliament, and staunch opponent of the bridge. Her twin brother JC is the Premier, who jettisoned the family’s political values and jumped to the Liberal Party*** to gain power. Ace is called home by JC, to help him settle tensions between the construction company and protestors so that he can finish the bridge and win the state election. Her bonus is that she can spend precious time with their parents while she still can.
As Ace investigates the bombing she faces up to bigger questions of what we value and what price we’re prepared to pay to keep what we have or get something we think is better. What she discovers has divided readers – an absurd revelation out of place in a political thriller, or satire, make of it what you will. As a Tasmanian who has left the island but not its values, the metaphor worked for me.
* Note for art lovers – go to MONA when it opens again – https://mona.net.au/
** Note for British readers – for some reason the Australian Labor Party uses American spelling. Don’t ask me why. I can’t be bothered looking it up.
*** Note for American readers – The Liberal Party is not the “liberal” party of Australian politics. Think 19C economic liberalism.
CBRbingo: I Wish… – I’d love to be able to visit my family, but Tasmania has pulled up the drawbridge to keep out the virus.