Limberlost | Robbie Arnott #AUSfiction

Epigraph:

In the economy of Nature nothing is ever lost.

Gene Stratton-Porter

The end of this quote from Stratton-Porter’s Jesus of the Emerald (1923) is, “I cannot believe that the soul of man shall prove the one exception.” I’m not sure where Arnott stands on the whole idea of souls, but it is clear that Nature will always have a capital N for him. Place is important, the environmant matters and our humanity is of no concern to Nature.

Gene (Geneva) Stratton-Porter (17 August 1863 – 6 December 1924) was a nature photographer, naturalist & silent film producer from Wabash County, Indiana. In 1917 she became an advocate for the conservation of the wetlands in her local area, including Limberlost Swamp. Sadly they were ultimately unsuccessful. In more recent times, small sections of the marsh have been restored under the auspices of the Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve.

In 1909 she wrote A Girl of the Limberlost, her most popular book and now considered to be a classic of Indiana literature. Her stories included “frequent, detailed, and loving descriptions of the flora and fauna of the wilderness.” (wikipedia)

Maggie had lent him a book…He was looking at its pages, taking none of the words in. It had been their mother’s favourite since childhood, Maggie had told him. A Girl of the Limberlost. The book from which their mother had taken the name for the orchard, seeing in their valley the same colours and dreams of the forest she’d read about in the novel.

Ned wanted to read it. Wanted to find in its pages the images and sensations that his mother had. Wanted something to root him to the earth, now that the river was out of his reach. But he couldn’t focus…

Opening Lines:

It was believed a whale had gone mad at the mouth of the river. Several boats had been destroyed in acts of violence so extraordinary they were deemed inhuman. Each attack had come at dusk, while the boats were passing the heads on their way back to port – the same area where plumes of spray were supposedly erupting from the water.

With words like ‘believed’ & ‘supposedly’, Arnott lets us know from the beginning that Limberlost will be a story about the stories humans tell each to make sense of their world. This is also as close to magic realism or fablism as Arnott gets this time.

I’m a huge fan of Robbie Arnott.

Limberlost is his most realistic, straight story telling to date. I missed the magic realism that dazzled me in his previous two books, but Limberlost also felt more complete, with a satisfying ending that the previous stories didn’t quite pull off. Flames was daring and interesting, The Rain Heron was majestic and mesmerising, while Limberlost has a quieter, more subtle, more personal tone.

Loosely based on a summer in his own grandfather’s life towards the end of WWII, trapping rabbits to sell while waiting to hear about the fate of his two older brothers, Limberlost is a coming-of-age story, that shows how one summer and the decsions made at that time, can stay with you for the rest of your life.

Like the whale tale that begins this story, Arnott has created a whirlpool of memories for Ned. Memories of that summer and forward memories swirl around each other. Arnott quietly, patiently draws out how one particular moment can be the emotional hinge of an entire life.

Facts:

  • Arnott was named the inaugural Hedberg Writer-in-Residence at the University of Tasmania 2021 which gave him the space and time to write his third novel.
  • Limberlost is based on tales that Arnott’s Grandfather Bruce told him about growing up in the Tamar Valley on an orchard called ‘Limberlost’.
  • It was Arnott’s great-grandmother who loved reading The Girl from Limberlost.

Writing Habits:

  • Arnott always starts with place, usually Tasmania or an imagined landscape with Tasmianian elements. His characters then come to life as they ‘live’ in this landscape.
  • He likes to write about how the world feels rather than what it looks like in reality. He likes to ‘lean into’ an ‘imaginative writing’ process, and play with ‘heightened reality’. He likes for his stories to feel impossibly real. He likes to create the unbelievable that is still tempting to believe. (Tamar Valley Writer’s Festival 2021 podcast)

Favourite Quote:

…he became aware of his lack of skill, his dearh of lessons, of old knowledge. He felt the looseness of his connection to the place. How tenuous his grip on the world was.

Favourite Character:

I enjoyed getting to know everyone in Limberlost, but mostly wanted to know more about Telle, the local vet. Her time in the story was brief, but she was an intriguing mix of scientific and romantic, practical and tender.

Favourite of Forget:

All of Arnott’s books are favourites in their own ways. Limberlost was a more personal, reflective story, but one that again shows that Nature is indifferent to the affairs of humanity.

Title: Limberlost
Author: Robbie Arnott
ISBN: 9781922458766
Imprint: Text Publishing
Published: 5 October 2022
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 240
Dates Read: 15 September 2022 - 17 September 2022
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

15 thoughts on “Limberlost | Robbie Arnott #AUSfiction

      1. Both, although it’s awfully corny now, but I read it a few years ago and it still made me cry. The only thing about Stratton-Porter is she turned out to be a pretty bad racist during WW II. That was disappointing to me, because my mother had several of her books from when she was young, and I liked them all, but exploring further . . .

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          1. Well, I found it in one book, Her Father’s Daughter, which is set in California and written during World War II, a ridiculous plot about the Japanese. I suppose it was reflecting a certain hysteria at the time.

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            1. I was curious about the dates in your comment as GS-P died in 1924, so it must have been WWI she was writing about. Her Father’s Daughter was published in 1921 and Goodreads has a long line of disappointed reviews from people like yourself, who read this as a child (& loved it) but upon rereading as an adult realised how racist it was.
              One essay I found tried to draw a very long bow that she was not racist, but in fact an early, secret advocate for civil rights for all – that this story was deliberately racist so that no one could accuse her of being pro-Japanese and somehow she was inculcating, via her protagonist, the next generation of American mothers to teach their children to be fair and tolerant towards everybody. It was not a convincing argument.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved almost all of The Rain Heron (I still think about the scene where it erupts from the water & rises up) but he didn’t quite nail the ending imo. In Limberlost he does.

      I look forward to hearing what you think of it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Limberlost, Freckles & The Keeper of the Bees are some GSP books that I’ve liked. There are a couple of her books I wouldn’t bother with. Love her focus on the natural world & she always makes me want to get outside and soak it all up. Arnott’s book sounds very interesting.

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  2. I didn’t mention it in my review, but I liked the way there were two versions of the story about his brother and the bull and that Ned didn’t know which one was true.
    A subtle comment on the Australian pub tradition of ‘tall tales’!

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