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I think this was given to me as a Christmas present several years ago; it languished on the shelves for a long time, and finally bubbled to the top of my list yesterday.

Wow. Once I got going, I really couldn't put it down. It's a really impressive autobiography, of a woman growing up in Australia before, during and after the second world war, as a child on a remote sheep station (the Coorain of the title, which some diligent Googling locates here), and then at school and university in Sydney, suffering the deaths of her father and brother and the slow decline of her mother. Yet at the same time it's a story of empowerment and enlightement, of spiritual, intellectual and moral development, as the young Jill realises what it means to be a white woman in Australia, and later to be a white Australian woman in the rest of the world.

Her descriptions of the landscape of western New South Wales are lyrical, which makes her account of the long years of drought that killed her father and their lifestyle all the more gruelling. (Six decades on, things weren't much better). Then, after the move to Sydney (she was eleven), she is compelling on the human landscape, both of the silent girl from the bush suddenly immersed in the ways of the city, and of the daughter struggling with her mother's ambitions and her own aspirations. The ending, of course, only points to new beginnings.

I know some of you reading this are Australians by one definition or another: I would be very interested to know how this book was received there. I confess I know very little about the place, despite my four and a half years working for your former foreign minister. While I've enjoyed my dabbling in Peter Carey's novels, I have to say that they did not whet my enthusiasm anything like as much as The Road from Coorain has.

From the unread books shelf between Forbidden Acts, a horror collection edited by Nancy Collins, and John Coulthard's graphic treatment of The Haunter in the Dark.

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