Contemplative novel about independence, masculinity and growing up
I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the author.
“Limberlost” by Robbie Arnott is a bildungsroman novel about Ned, a fifteen year old boy who lives in regional Tasmania. His two older brothers are away at war and Ned, his sister and his father are alone on their apple orchard Limberlost without news. A quiet young man, Ned spends his summer shooting rabbits and saving money for a secret goal. Despite the stifled wartime atmosphere, Ned builds quiet connections with people in his family and his community and, with only the memory of his brothers to guide him, begins to find his own way to becoming a man.
This is an introspectively lyrical book about a young man who, despite a rich inner life full of dreams and worries, struggles to communicate with those around him. Although Arnott puts it to the reader to decide how much of Ned’s quietness is his personality or a product of his circumstances, one thing I really enjoyed about this book was how much effort his family and community put into listening to him. There were some very poignant moments scattered throughout this book and one of the highlights was the way Arnott engaged with the Tasmanian landscape and wildlife. Ned’s experience with a whale resonates throughout the book, re-examined through different lenses of memory and emotion. At the heart of the book was the tension caused by secretly helping an injured animal and Ned’s longing for a boat, and I loved the way all the characters reacted and interacted with Ned around his decisions. The innate warmth of the characters and their actions contrasts strikingly against their stiffness and outwardly suppressed emotions.
While I was entranced by Ned quietly navigating his way towards adulthood, I found the other chapters of him as an older man less compelling. While there were some interesting insights, I felt that Ned’s summer shooting rabbits was so perfectly self-contained as a story that I would have been satisfied had it been left with that.
A beautiful and gentle story and I look forward to reading more of Arnott’s work.