I finished Inga Simpson’s latest novel over the weekend in about three absorbed sittings. Evocative of childhood summers, Where the Trees Were is a beautifully written coming-of-age story. A friend suggested it may be the next Great Australian Novel, and he may be right.
Jay grows up on a farm, her world shaped by her landscape and her family. Languorous days spent swimming and climbing trees with her three close friends unwind on the river. When they find a grove of trees decorated with arborglyphs (pictures carved into the bark; I love a book which teaches me new words) the group decide it will be their secret, sacred place.
Years later, Jay works in the National Museum, and is unable to shake her preoccupation with her own past. The parallel narratives of Jay’s child and adulthood help to build the tension in the story, and the artful management of the main characters day to day activities with the reflections on the past is really well done. I loved Simpson’s descriptions of the birds and animals in Jay’s part of the world, and I loved seeing how her problems resolved.