The Coming of the Whirlpool, by Andrew McGahan

The Coming of the Whirlpool is the first in an outstanding new fantasy series from Andrew McGahan, better known for his literary novels for adults. But what a punch he packs in his debut for teens.

Dow didn’t dare speak. He had never disagreed with his father before – but how could anyone prefer the gloom of the forest and the slow drip from the branches to this, the shrieking wind, and the cliff, and the tumbling grey ocean?
‘It’s no place for the likes of us,’ Howard Amber concluded, and shook his head. ‘We’ll leave it to the Ship Kings, you and I.’ And with that he turned and began to descend again into the forest.

Dow Amber was born and has grown up high in the mountains of New Island, his destiny – to be a timber cutter – determined by his place as first born son. But he doesn’t mind too much, until the day he first glimpses the ocean. From a clifftop in the mountains he glimpses the sea, and a ship upon it, and a longing to sail is born in him. He must fight to be allowed to leave the mountains and move to a grim fishing village to be trained as a fisherman.

In his new home, in the village of Stromner, Dow finally learns to sail, but what he is most excited by is the spectacle of the big ships, sailed by the Ship Kings, and forbidden to New Islanders such as himself. Dow longs to sail like these people. Not only is it impossible, but he must not come to the attention of the Ship Kings – because if they find out who he really is, they will kill him.

The Coming of the Whirlpool is the first in an outstanding new fantasy series from Andrew McGahan, better known for his literary novels for adults. But what a punch he packs in his debut for teens. Dow must battle nature, foreign rulers, his townspeople and even history, in order to make his way in the world, follow his dreams and stay alive. He becomes the unwitting figurehead for the hopes of his people, and makes friends and enemies along the way. There are the dangerous forces of nature – with a hint of magic – and lots of battles against the elements.

Perfect for those who love sea-faring adventures, or fantasy, or just a ripping yarn, The Coming of the Whirlpool is suitable for readers aged 12 through to adult.

The Coming of the Whirlpool (Ship Kings)

The Coming of the Whirlpool (Ship Kings), by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742376479

This book is available at good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

1988, by Andrew McGahan

It seemed fitting. We’d drive, we’d traverse the continent. Not that we could go all the way by car. Wayne didn’t know exactly where the lighthouse was, but he did know that it was somewhere remote, not accessible by road. The only way in was by plane or boat. And it seemed that once we’d arrived, we’d be stuck there until the six months were up. There was no transport for holidays or weekends off. Only, maybe, for emergencies. Critical injuries, heart attacks, death.

It is 1988, the year Australia celebrates the Bicentenary of European settlement and Brisbane hosts the Expo. But Gordon, failed writer and part time bottleshop attendant, is heading out of Brisbane to spend most of the year manning a weather station thousands of miles from home, and isolated from the rest of the world. His partner in this journey is Wayne, a mere acquaintance and artist. The two hope that their isolation will help with their respective crafts.

But, while the pair expect their job to be challenging, the challenges they face are not necessarily those they expected, and Gordon finds himself living in a blur of alcohol and marijuana , counting down the days till his departure.

1988 is a prequel to author McGahan’s first novel, Praise, both re-released this year along with his other novels to date. Whilst not the recipient of the same awards and kudos that some of his other novels have earned (McGahan has won the Miles Franklin, a Ned Kelly and the Vogel award), 1988 is another example of both his masterful writing and his versatility. Gordon is a flawed character, yet the reader is taken on an intimate journey through his messed-up life and finds some level of understanding.

A satisfying read.

1988, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin 1995, this edition 2005

Last Drinks, by Andrew McGahan

Identify somebody? Did he mean identify some actual body? That didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t that people didn’t die in Highwood, but I wasn’t a local, not even after ten years of living there. I was nobody’s relative and nobody’s next of kin. Why would I be called?

Ten years after the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland, disgraced journalist George Verney thinks he has put those times behind him. He’s living in quiet Highwood, close to the NSW border, has given up drinking and is working a steady job as the sole reporter on the local paper. Thinks are ticking along with his love interest, Emily, and he has managed to forget the great love interest of his life, Maybellene and her husband Charlie, once his best mate and partner in illicit business.

But an early morning phone call from the local police sergeant shatters not just his night’s sleep, but his whole existence. Charlie has been found dead, brutally murdered close to Highwood.

In the days that follow, George must face up to the demons of his past. Charlie has died a homeless drunk and it is up to George to organise a funeral, at the same time trying to piece together just why Charlie has been killed. Returning to Brisbane for the funeral, George seeks out the other partners in the business venture which saw them all named and shamed in the Inquiry. He’s desperate to find out the truth but as it unravels he finds that the truth is sometimes unpalatable.

Last Drinks is a thrilling crime novel with highs and lows; laugh out loud moments teamed with deep, dark depths; and masterful rendering of character and place. The events of George’s life have a parallel with the political life of the whole state, an analogy which author Andrew McGahan develops subtly, yet skilfully.

Winner of a Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel, Last Drinks was first published in 2000 and has been re-released along with McGahan’s other novels.

Last Drinks, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 2000, this edition 2005

Praise, by Andrew McGahan

wasn’t a man of strength. I waited until the end of the shift. I closed up the shop. Then I resigned. Quietly. The manager asked me why. He asked me if it was something personal. There wasn’t much I could say. I was tired. I felt it was time to wind that part of my life down. Work wasn’t the answer to anything…

Three days after his twenty-third birthday, Gordon quits his job in a Brisbane bottle shop. He has seven hundred dollars in the bank and no plans to look for another job. He doesn’t know what he’ll do and he doesn’t care. Why should he?

Praise is a story about being young and hopeless in the Australia of the early 1990s. It isn’t a feel good book and in places is quite dark, but it feels pretty real and has a pathos which keeps the reader turning pages and, if they were young in those times (as this reviewer was) nodding knowingly.

Gordon lives in a world where sex, alcohol and drugs are far more important than work, and where planning for the future seems futile. In fact, for Gordon, the future is little more than waking up tomorrow and doing the same things over.

Praise won the Vogel award in 1991 and has been re-released in conjunction with author McGahan’s other, subsequent, books, including 1988, a prequel to this offering.

A gritty read.

Praise, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 1991, this edition 2005

The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan

William is only eight when he sees a huge smoke cloud erupt on the family farm. He is confused by the events that follow – the smell of smoke, the ringing of the telephone, the appearance of neighbour’s vehicles. But eventually he realises his father has been killed in a tractor fire. William and his mother are left destitute by his father’s passing, and with the unstable mother unable to either care properly for William or work for a living, they are forced to accept the charity of an uncle William didn’t know existed.

Moving into his uncle’s home, Kuran House, does not provide the stability William needs. His uncle has spent his life in an obsessed quest to own Kuran Station and now needs an heir to continue his life’s work. He is not, however, prepared to simply name William in his will. He wants the boy to prove himself. William’s mother, desperate for security and a better life, expects William to perform for his uncle. And, while William works to try to balance the competing needs of these two unbalanced adults, he is also battling a health problem which no one around seems at all concerned with.

Alongside the personal struggles of William and the unstable grown ups who seem to occupy his world is the story of the Mabo case and the land rights debates of the late 20th century. The novel is set in 1992, the year the Mabo case was playing out in the nation’s courtrooms and television sets. William’s uncle is involved in the White Australia movement, through the Australian Independence League and has William assist him in his work. William is a boy desperate for love, acceptance and order and he is drawn into what he sees the League offering him. It is much later in the novel that he is forced to question both the League and his uncle’s beliefs and action.

The White Earth is a complex story, with parallel plots involving William’s present and his Uncle John’s past. As William’s story unfolds we also learn what has brought his uncle to this place in his life – both physically and emotionally. It is a novel with many shocks, gripping the reader with its sheer awfulness. Those who have read Dickens will draw parallels between Uncle John and Miss Havisham and be aware of the Dickensian feel to both the progression of the tale and the overall tone.

That said, this is a very Australian novel, with a very Australian setting and cast.


The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, 2004