Books & Literature

Book Review: The Far-Back Country, by Kate Lyons

When Ray McCullough runs away from home as a young teenager, his older sister begins a quest to find him that will span decades of her life.

Kate Lyons’ novel retells a compelling tale of the trials and tribulations of a family living in the Australian Outback through the eyes of main protagonist, Ray McCullough, and his older sister, Ursula McCullough.

At the age of fourteen, Ray fled his family home in New South Wales after a confrontation with his father Jim McCullough. He left behind his two sisters and mother. Ursula, the eldest of the three siblings, is heartbroken by Ray’s departure, fleeing the home herself to find him. She spends years trying to track down her younger brother, obsessing over anyone she walked by that looked faintly similar to the 14-year-old boy who Ursula remembered.

Forty years later, a body of a man is found in a pub along with Ray’s possessions and identification. With a hopeful lead after so many years, Ursula and her sister, Tilda, go to identify the deceased male and collect their brother’s belongings. When Ursula discovers the body is not Ray’s, she travels through the scenic Outback of Australia to find answers, following in Ray’s footsteps to discover the man he had become.

Meanwhile Ray McCullough, now in his 40s and working as an itinerant cook and labourer, is still attempting to escape his past. The memories his violent father and dishevelled family haunt him daily. Convinced that he’s inherited his father’s violent tendencies, Ray lives with few connections, keeping adrift from civilisation by staying as far in the Outback as possible. When he unwillingly begins to settle down with a woman and her son, he begins to let go of his old drifting habits, allowing his sister, Ursula, to pick up his trail.

Kate Lyon, who was born in the outback herself, uses the power of imagery and descriptive language to map out the Australian outback in a compelling story of a fragmented family and the power of love between siblings.

The beginning of the novel is hard to grasp as the two protagonists tell their perspectives from different timelines. It requires a lot of concentration to understand the underlying messages Lyon tries to portray. As the plot develops and Ursula and Ray come closer to reuniting, the truth of Ray’s past unravels and the beginning of the novel starts to link up with the end, becoming a lot easier to understand.

By the close of the novel I found myself moved by Ray’s hardworking and heartfelt traits. It’s a strange yet beautiful story of the power and love of family. Lyon’s novel is particularly one for those who love reading Australian literature, especially about the landscapes and the Australian Outback.

Reviewed by Bonnie Priadko

Rating out of 10: 7

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: July 2018
RRP: $29.99

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