Book review: The Boundary by Nicole Watson

The Boundary
by Nicole Watson
University of Queensland Press, 2011

The Boundary opens with a death – clearly a murder – but before much is known to the reader the time shifts to some hours earlier, when Bruce Brosnan is making his judgement in a case. We are in Brisbane, Queensland, and the case in question is a boundary dispute. The indiginous Coorawa people are trying to stop a new development being built on a small park on the grounds that it is one of their ancient sites. The judge rules against the Coorawa, on the legally correct but morally indefensiible grounds that because in past times there was a curfew in which the Aborigines were moved out of the city at night, they cannot now prove continuous occupation.

The ensuing tale of murder and corruption is told from various viewpoints – by mostly flawed protagonists struggling with guilt, alcoholism, superstition, poverty, infidelity, and denial of their heritage. Central to the story are Miranda, a young lawyer who tries to help the Coorawa, and Jason, one of the pair of detectives assigned to the murder case. Hanging over the whole is a strong sense of historical injustice, and a righteous anger, on behalf of the Aboriginal people who were treated so shamefully in the past and, perhaps not much less so, in the present (if this author is to be believed).

The Boundary is a novel of undoubted power and emotion; it is a serious debut book that has won the prestigious David Unaipon award. I have to admit that I struggled a bit with it, as the minutiae of Brisbane city politics and legal issues, linguistic digressions, as well as the many personal issues that the characters face, overwhelmed the plot somewhat and broke up the narrative. Even so, I enjoyed the novel and respect its strong sincerity. Having read several Australian novels over the years that have been about, or have touched on, the injustices suffered by Aboriginal populations, it was educational, if somewhat harrowing, to read this one, in which these issues are fully to the fore and impossible for the reader to look away from.

I thank Bernadette of Reactions to Reading for kindly sending me this book.

Read other reviews of The Boundary at: Fair Dinkum Crime (includes some information about the author), Aust Crime Fiction and, less enthusiastically, at M/C Reviews.