That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Kim Scott won the Miles Franklin more than a decade ago for his novel Benang. His latest, That Deadman Dance, must surely be under consideration for a raft of major prizes.

A Noongar man from SW Western Australia, Scott has written a novel of first contact, which traces the first couple of decades of British presence in a fictional settlement on the coast. The story revolves around Bobby Wabalanginy, his people and the shifting alliances and relationships that link him into the fledgling colony as much as distance him from it.

The insights into earlier colonial times in WA are fascinating, especially the contact with the Yankee whalers. However, it is Noongar people, and their light touch on the landscape, which hold the greatest interest in the book. What starts as a reasonably promising relationship between English and Noongar, gradually deteriorates as the power shifts towards the newcomers until Bobby is forced to choose between the old world and the new.
There is interest enough in the story to make this a compelling book.

However, what lifts it way above that is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers. This is a book that demands to be savoured. The readers will want to pause and re-read passages for the sheer beauty of the language and imagery.
The book has much to say about the first Australians and the English who changed their lives irrevocably. While contemporary writers such as Kate Grenville, Richard Flanagan, Andrew McGahan and Alex Miller have all wrestled with related themes, Kim Scott’s flawlessly written tale adds both meaning and depth to the Australian writing experience.

That Deadman Dance is available in both hard back and paper back now.

(Review by TW  published in  Bookseller and Publisher Magazine)

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