Benang by Kim Scott

How many of these Australian books have you read? I’ve read four. Not bad, but not fantastic. I don’t have enough scope on Australian literature to  feel like I can vote for the top 10 books. But I’m a huge supporter of the oz. Just as I support fantasy, chick lit, sci-fi, flash fiction, historical, romance.. Yeah alright, everything then.

I am thankful that my course has compulsory Australian readings. I want to learn about writers who live near me. It is easier to learn the history of Australia when its told in beautiful prose and plot. I am curious and delighted that books like Kate Grenville’s “The Secret River” can make people so angry. Henry Handel Richarson lived 30 k’s down the road from my home-town in the 19th century.

I recently read Kim Scott’s “Benang” as a part of post-modernism study. It is a big one, about five hundred pages of fictional aboriginal family history. It is told from the first person perspective, “the first white man” as a 1/16th aboriginal, where the gene has been bred out. It is not an easy read. Physically and emotionally confronting, aboriginals are treated like animals and is a shocking reminder of Australia less than a hundred years ago. The story is broken up with letters from A. Neville, the Aboriginal protector who sends aboriginals away and forces the citizens to follow the law. The story is not told in a linear way, but revolves in a circle, like a campfire the protagonist’s stories are being told to him by his uncles. It is confusing, there are way too many characters. The reoccurring theme is the struggle, the family break-down and Ernest Solman Scat – the bastard grandfather. One image that will stick with me for a long time is Ernest forcing his sick wife into a bath of bleach to lighten her skin. The prose is quite beautiful and the narrator’s voice is strong. But there is no plot. This book drove me bonkers because it would have pages of descriptions and then fragments of scenes leading no-where.

I am interested to study it and learn more about Aboriginal history but please do not make me read it again.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Benang by Kim Scott

  1. It sounds like a really challenging read! I did some research into this area at one stage, and yes, it is truly shocking.
    On the list of Aussie books, I am embarrassed to say that although I have heard to quite a few, I’m only actually read one (Eucalyptus)! I’m a big fan of David Malouf, but I haven’t read the one suggested.

    • Shannon McKeogh

      Out of a class of twenty only two of us had read the book. I understand why Kim Scott wrote it that way but it doesn’t make the book accessible to a larger audience. It has been interesting to study it though. If Scott wrote in the traditional novel form it would be seen as insulting towards his ancestors because it would be a white person’s method. Even the word ‘aboriginal’ is deemed offensive. It’s so tricky. But incredibly fascinating. I think we have to learn about it, seeing as it was not even long ago!

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