Hook’s Mountain by James McQueen

‘And now, forever, Blue Hill had gone, and it was Hook’s Mountain.’

Arthur Blackberry has lived near the (fictional) town of Myola all his life. He does odd jobs for people, scavenges form the local tip, and observes. Arthur lives on the periphery of people’s consciousness: he is short, he is different, easy to ignore. His life changes when, in the autumn of 1978, Lachlan Hook, a veteran of World War II, buys a block of land nearby and builds a simple home. He is an outsider. He and Arthur get on well together. Hook builds his home to look out across towards Blue Hill: surely, the loggers will not remove the trees from Blue Hill?

Stop for a minute to imagine the setting. I imagine this novel’s setting is in north-east Tasmania, where logging changed the landscape forever. A relentless assault on native forest, replaced by pine plantations. The removal of habitat for native species. An upheaval, a destruction.

How does Blue Hill become Hook’s Mountain? Over five chapters, each opening with a verse from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Last Year’s Man’ – from ‘Songs of Love and Hate’ (1971) – the story unfolds.

Lachlan Hook has a past and, for a while after he meets Ellen and her son Stephen, the future looks promising. But Hook cannot let go of aspects of the past, and Ellen and Stephen leave. From his perspective, with nothing left to lose, Hook decides to try to stop (or at least slow down) the destruction of the forest on Blue Hill. The Hill becomes a position to be defended. Arthur helps Hook: he can do this because no-one notices him. And, although he is later suspected of helping Hook, nothing can be proven. Arthur Blackberry becomes witness to Hook’s story.

This is the second time I have read this novel. This time, as I listened to ‘Last Year’s Man’, I thought about some of the levels of dispossession Mr McQueen addressed: the impact of the destruction of the native forest, the ‘othering’ of Arthur Blackberry because of his difference, the failure to address a soldier’s transition back into civilian society after the horrors of war. I wondered where Ellen and Stephen went. I wondered whether Hook could have survived if they had stayed.

A brilliantly written and profoundly moving novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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