About thirty pages into this book it is evident why this novel won the 2002 Age Book of the Year and was shortlisted for four other prestigious Australian literary awards. The novel begins at the end of the First World War when Frank and Ada Clark take up a land option as soldier settlers in Western Australia. The going is tough and most of their neighbours fail to thrive during the depression. Frank survives by selling his land off piecemeal to a local hotel. Ada was never meant for the harshness of life in the Australian bush and withdraws into herself rarely going further that the chicken run.
The couple have two daughters, Frances and Edith, and when Frank dies one of them is offered a job in the hotel, the Sea House. The girls have only one pair of shoes between them. It is Edith who takes on the waitress and bar work while Frances remains at home caring for Ada and the small allotment they are left with. One day they have visitors – two young men: one is Ada's nephew from London his companion is an Armenian raised in an orphanage in Turkey. They have met in the Middle East on an archaeological exploration. The guests stay several months and after they have left Edith finds she is pregnant. This book is about a young woman's struggle to find the father of her child in a hostile world.
Leopold, the girls' cousin, carries a volume of the epic poem of Gilgamesh which he gives to Edith and her son James when they meet during the war.
This report prepared by Penny