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Little Gods

Little Gods 1

by Jenny Ackland
Publication Date: 21/03/2018
5/5 Rating 1 Review

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A rare, original and stunning novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn't always set you free - with echoes of Jasper Jones, Seven Little Australians and Cloudstreet.

As a child, trapped in the savage act of growing up, Olive had sensed she was at the middle of something, so close to the nucleus she could almost touch it with her tongue. But like looking at her own nose for too long, everything became blurry and she had to pull away. She'd reached for happiness as a child not yet knowing that the memories she was concocting would become deceptive. That memories get you where they want you not the other way around.

The setting is the Mallee, wide flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life.

She knows that adults aren't very good at keeping secrets and makes it her mission to uncover as many as she can. When she learns that she once had a baby sister who died - a child unacknowledged by her close but challenging family - Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery and relentless quest to find out what happened have seismic repercussions for the rest of her family and their community. As everything starts to change, it is Olive herself who has the most to lose as the secrets she unearths multiply and take on complicated lives of their own.

Little Gods is a novel about the mess of family, about vengeance and innocence lost. It explores resilience and girlhood and questions how families live with all of their complexities and contradictions. Resonating with echoes of great Australian novels like Seven Little Australians, Cloudstreet, and Jasper Jones, Little Gods is told with similar idiosyncrasy, insight and style. Funny and heartbreaking, this is a rare and original novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn't always set you free.

Classic fiction
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Jenny Ackland

Jenny Ackland is a writer and teacher from Melbourne. She has worked in offices, sold textbooks in a university bookshop, taught English overseas and worked as a proof-reader and freelance editor.

Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines and listed in prizes and awards. Her debut novel The Secret Son - a "Ned Kelly-Gallipoli mash-up" about truth and history - was published in 2015. Little Gods is her second novel.

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“It was true what Thistle always said, that trouble is around a person like air is, and you breathe it in. She made sure to sleep with her jaw clenched and woke in the mornings, wrenched out of her sleep to lie in bed, heart throbbing with a dream-fear so thick and real it was as if she might make everything come true just by imagining it.”

Little Gods is the second novel by Australian teacher and author, Jenny Ackland. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve and is looking forward to the summer break spent with her cousins on their farm, Serpentine. But a chance remark by one of the Sands brothers at the local pool gives her a mystery to solve. Did she once have a baby sister? What happened to her? Why does no-one talk about her?

While the bones of the mystery will be apparent to the astute reader early on, the finer points of the Lovelock family’s tragic events are fed to the reader gradually and attention to seemingly insignificant details is required for it to all fall into place. And it eventually becomes clear that Olive’s memories are not quite as reliable as they first seem.

Olive is clever and wilful and, under the influence of her unconventional Aunt Thistle, daring, confident and determined. Craving Olive’s approval, her best friend, Peter and her cousins, Sebastian and Archie join in with her audacious plans, often against their better judgement. But helping her to extract a confession and mete out justice to the person she believes responsible for the tragedy, is that a step too far?

Little Gods oozes authenticity: the characters are flawed but ever so real and familiar; the setting, the heat, the dry are all expertly rendered; the dialogue, especially that of the children, is completely convincing; the shifting childhood loyalties and confusion at adult values, all realistic. “Rue cared a lot about what other people thought and it seemed to Olive that the less close the people were, the more important their opinions seemed to be.” And Olive wonders “Why it was that the words adults said so often didn’t match what they did.”

Ackland’s descriptions of the summer holidays (days at the pool, riding bikes, climbing trees, midnight excursions, pet wild birds, family stories retold, secret languages, inventive games) are so evocative that Australian readers of a certain vintage will wonder how she has managed to download their personal childhood memories without their knowledge.

Ackland gives the reader some marvellous descriptive prose: “Olive felt the pull of the trees. How would it be to float out of the window up over the roof and away from earth? To be far from the hard emotions that ran underneath the dinner noises?” and “A proper memory arrived then, like mail through a slot.” and “Thoughts would tap at her in a random series of small images that dropped into her head, without cause.” are examples.

Ackland’s second novel is a story about growing up and memories, about families and things not talked about in them, a story that is funny and sad and moving, and will stay with the reader well after the last page is turned.
With thanks to Allen and Unwin for this Uncorrected Proof copy to read and review.

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