The Indigo Sky is the sequel to last year’s Stillwater Creek (reviewed here). Author Alison Booth has revisited the fictional town of Jingera on the New South Wales south coast. It is now 1961, four years later, and much has changed for the town’s residents.
Zidra has grown into a teenager – on the verge of womanhood, she is contemplating her future life. Her music teacher mother, Ilona, is now married to local farmer, Peter Vincent. One of Ilona’s pupils, the sensitive Philip Chapman, is leaving home for life as a boarder at the exclusive Stambroke College in Sydney. Jim , the son of local butcher and stargazer George Cadwaller, is now a prefect at Stambroke and he is concerned by how poorly Philip is adjusting to school life.
Philip’s forced removal from the home he loves echoes the plight of the young indigenous girl, Lorna Hunter, who is stolen from her family (see Stillwater Creek) and sent to a remote boarding school where she is to be trained as a domestic servant under harsh and unforgiving conditions. Philip’s cage may be gilded and his life ostensibly privileged but he buckles under the relentless bullying of his classmates and contemplates a truly horrific solution to his plight. In contrast Lorna shows a magnificent resilience. Her ingenuity in maintaining contact with her friends underlines her tremendous strength – she is also clearly a leader among the girls of Gudgiegalah Girls’ Home.
Alison Booth has said that The Indigo Sky is a book about bullying, and it is not only Philip and Lorna’s stories that sit within this very central theme – George Cadwaller is also subjected to a more insidious passive bullying from his wife. However, it is also a story rooted very firmly in place. The landscape, be it the beautiful coastline surrounding Jingera or Sydney Harbour, is a character in its own right with an emotive range – the dark mountains loom and the harbour’s jade green water heaves.
In Stillwater Creek, the strong dark currents running beneath the surface of a small town are explored. The Indigo Sky spreads the issues across a broader canvas, time has passed and horizons have expanded. The issues of bullying and the stolen generations are very much to the fore – a desperate search for Lorna’s parents occupies Ilona and Lorna for much of the book.
This is a beautifully written tale. The language weaves its own special magic and the story is as engaging as that of the first book. However the sensibilities expressed about some of the bigger themes (particularly the stolen generations) sometimes feel slightly anachronistic. The author has, however, chosen to express these via the observations and reactions of the non Australian incomers, Ilona and her daughter. This certainly does help make them feel more believable in the context of the story.
The Indigo Sky is a recommended read. It continues with themes of hope and redemption found in Stillwater Creek and places them in new contexts. The characters have grown and I look forward to the next instalment in this delightful, and very Australian, series.
The author of Stillwater Creek, Alison Booth, was born in Victoria and raised in Sydney. She spent over two decades living in the UK, and returned to Australia in 2002. She is now a professor of economics at the Australian National University and is married with two daughters. This is her second novel and she is currently working on the third in the series, which will be set in Jingera in 1970.
Title: The Indigo Sky
Author: Alison Booth
Publisher: Bantam Australia
Publication Date: January 2011