The Drover's Wife is utterly authentic, brilliantly plotted, thoroughly harrowing and entirely of our times exploring race, gender, violence and inheritance.
Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.
At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.
One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.
Full of fury and power, Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a brave reimagining of the Henry Lawson short story that has become an Australian classic. Brilliantly plotted, it is a compelling thriller of our pioneering past that confronts head-on issues of today: race, gender, violence and inheritance.
“To introduce warmth and all-important ethical perspectives, Purcell switches between a third-person account of events and first-person reflections of the emotional and subjective impact of these events. These reflections become meatier as the book rolls on. The real meat of the novel is its characters. New characters trick, trip and undermine the racial anxieties that the colony has about Country and its peoples, while old characters are thoroughly re-created with their own surprises and tensions. These surprises don’t happen, as you might think, in the moments of rapidly escalating crises, but rather in the natural lulls of the plot when guards are down – ours and theirs. Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife offers the edge of one of this continent’s sharpest storytellers on one of its cutting colonial stories.”
Alison Whittaker, The Saturday Paper
“The set-up in Purcell’s prose leaves us craving action. Ultimately, we are rewarded. After the reveal, the book blisters at great speed to its well-executed ending. The extent to which Lawson’s story has fuelled Purcell’s work is evident in the high level of detail faithfully transferred from the original. Purcell has written herself and her mother into Molly Johnson’s story because they recognise themselves in it. This layered adaptation reminds me how retellings by those who can offer a different perspective can unsettle the status quo. More appropriations and contestations of ‘the classics’ by First Nations writers, please.”
Ellen Van Neerven, Australian Book Review