Bibliophile | Life is not like detective novels in Little Gods

Little Gods
by Jenny Ackland
Allen & Unwin

Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is an only child but her extended family, where her mother and two sisters seem to have paired up with three brothers, spend a lot of time together on the family farm in north-western Victoria. Olive is “willful, fanciful and brave” as she finds adventure with her three cousins, her best friend Peter (the copper’s son) and her pet raven Grace.

One day, the school bully taunts her by saying that he knows about her sister and then soon afterwards Olive finds a photograph in the attic of a red haired baby. One of her aunts tells her that she did have a baby sister who died and Olive is determined to find who was responsible for her sister’s death – by ‘detectivising’ to work out the mystery and find the murderer.

“She realized she needed to become a better spy, a more cold-blooded one. She would wait and be patient, in a tree or on the ground, behind the embroidered curtain in the Green Room. She would ride the streets with her binoculars hanging around her neck. She would find answers somehow. She would try to trick people into giving away everything they knew, and then she would put it all together.”

This enthralling story is written from the point of view of a child, including all the creative spelling, but with adult perceptions. It is the time of the Chamberlain trial and Ackland’s story weaves together poignant tales of missing children.  Olive’s Uncle Cleg is a lawyer representing mothers who have had their babies taken from them when they were young and unmarried. Olive notices things about how her mother has been affected by the loss and Olive herself would feel the loss of a ‘child’.

Olive discovers that life is not like detective books where everything fits neatly together. Author Jenny Ackland explores things that are “beyond the realm of childhood that even grown-ups would struggle to name”. She says “I wanted to explore how people protect others by not talking, or by avoiding, when to talk about things in a child’s life – good or bad – can be so necessary, for validation and foe healing.” Her book deals with unspoken and unacknowledged grief, and is both nostalgic and cathartic.

Lezly Herbert

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