The Crying Place by Lia Hills

‘How does a man choose where to die?’

Saul, a restless traveller is seeking to settle down when he receives the devastating news that his friend Jed is dead. Saul is in Sydney when he receives the news and sets out for Melbourne where Jed was living when he died. Family and friends want Saul to travel to Hobart for Jed’s funeral, but he cannot bring himself to attend. Instead, after sorting through Jed’s belongings in Melbourne, he sets out on a journey of his own. He has found a photograph amongst Jed’s belongings, of a woman. And Saul believes that if he can find this woman then he may be able to find the truth about Jed’s death.

Saul sets off alone, in his trusty Subaru, for Alice Springs. Here he finds the information he needs to find the woman, Nara, in a remote Aboriginal community. Along the way, Saul remembers Jed, the adventures they shared, and wonders about the mysteries of life and death.

‘A story is like a river. It has a source. It has tributaries, some as far reaching and expansive as memory, others a thin trickle, so tenuous their influx is barely noticed.’

The story moves through beautifully described landscape, into spaces and experiences beyond Saul’s experience. He has with him a copy of ‘Voss’, Patrick White’s metaphysical novel about a man and the woman he secretly loves. Once Saul arrives at his destination, he starts to learn about indigenous culture and folklore, about the different forms of grief, and about family ties. He is following Jed to try to understand his death, but his own journey will lead him to appreciate life differently.

This is a story to read slowly both to appreciate Saul’s journey and the importance of family ties and grief in the community where Saul finds himself. What does home mean for Saul? Is it a place, or a feeling? What can he learn about Jed by meeting with Nara and her extended family?

Saul’s restlessness, his inability to find a place to settle indicates that he does not know where he belongs. While I wonder about Jed, his relationship with Nara and where they each belong, it is Saul’s journey that captured and held my attention. So many questions to consider, amidst the heat, the dust, and the flies.

Grief and loss are universal parts of the human condition, but our reactions are not.

I found this novel incredibly moving, a story I will revisit.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith