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.

8 thoughts on “Book review: The Boundary by Nicole Watson

  1. I did think this book might not travel well, as it does have a combination of local language and social history that is just not terribly well known – even here to some extent. I think for me it was one of those times when you’re reading and you thin “well that’s what I’ve been saying/thinking for ages….glad someone else has said it too”, and to be honest I was also quite glad to see the Aboriginal perspective depicted somewhat more credibly than is often the case (a very sensitive subject here that often, sadly, results in gross neglect rather than anyone be offended – heaven forbid). I’m glad you managed to find some things in it to enjoy despite not having enough exposure to the nuances of the context.

    • I agree, Bernadette, a sense of this perspective is provided by Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest, but that is mainly a personal perspective. The Boundary exposes what is/was happening on an institutionalised scale (legal system, police, etc) and is powerful for that reason, as well as the personal ones addressed in the book.

  2. I really want to read this book, first from rave reviews from Australia and this one, too. I very much like books that expand my knowledge of a country’s history, politics and cultures, particularly about Indigenous populations and their treatment, which is often little known, especially to outsiders. What better way is there to learn than in crime fiction is my motto.
    This is on my TBR list and am hoping one of the relative Santas will ship it my way.
    Happy reading!

  3. Sounds like a very interesting read! I shall put it on the must-read-one-day-once-I-get-through-my-current-wall-of-books-unless-it-falls-on-me-first-list.

  4. Yes it does sound an interesting book Maxine. Especially in relation to the Aboriginal past. I have just received 2 books from Bernadette too. How wonderful that Australian crime is reaching a wider audience.

  5. Maxine – As always, this is an excellent review. This one’s got several themes that interest me, too; I don’t know enough about Australian and Brisbane politics and should learn more about them, and it sounds as though this really explores characters, which I quite enjoy. I should read this one…

  6. Pingback: The Boundary by Nicole Watson | Petrona Book Reviews archive

  7. Pingback: New (to me) authors read in 2011 | Petrona

Comments are closed.