Sometimes I pick up a book, it draws me in, and refuses to let go. Sometimes, I find it hard to define where magic begins and reality ends. Sometimes, the inability to find this distinction troubles me. But not this time. What an intriguing debut novel this is.
‘Clancy Fox waited on the back verandah, his eyes fixed on a horizon just visible beyond the edge of his mountain.’
In 1986, fourteen year old twins Samson and Jonah travel with their father David to a remote location in Tasmania where they will stay with their paternal grandfather, Clancy Fox. Clancy lives near the top of a mountain, which the locals call Fox Hill. It was once sometimes called Tiger Mountain, but in 1986 the Tasmanian tiger was officially declared extinct. Samson and Jonah have never met Clancy Fox before, and while Samson is interested in his new surroundings, Jonah is not. Their stay is meant to be temporary: the plan is that their mum will come after Christmas and they will move to a new house in Brisbane.
Clancy is obsessed with finding his missing daughter, River. He maintains her room as a shrine, and it is off limits to Samson and Jonah. David leaves. While Samson finds a lot to interest him on the mountain, Jonah’s focus is different. He finds his way into River’s room, feeding into his own obsession. Does he understand what he is doing? Samson, who has Down syndrome, seems to have a better understanding of many things than Jonah does. He may have to rely on his brother or Clancy to cook for him, but in many ways he is far more adaptable than either of them.
‘The tiger was Clancy’s secret, but it also had something to do with his dad.’
The story continues: Clancy’s dog Queenie has disappeared and he searches for her, a kookaburra named King has vanished. When another child disappears on Fox Mountain, past and present combine and seem to overwhelm Clancy.
Ms Kanake’s writing took me into this story and held me there, albeit uncomfortably at times. I was too busy keeping pace with what was happening on the page to stop to try to analyse the actions of some of the characters. But once I’d finished the novel, I was left wondering about how Clancy and David could be so indifferent to each other and how David could so casually take Samson and Jonah to Fox Hill, and leave. The past has a way of claiming the present for Clancy. There are other people whose lives intersect with Clancy, Samson and Jonah, and the location and weather both have their own part to play.
And Tasmanian tigers? Do they still live on Tiger Mountain? What is real, and what is not?