Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW
Dr Nell Cook, Lecturer, The Writing Program,
The Scent of Belonging
Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW 2480
This story could be described as one that blurs boundaries between historical fiction, romance and social realism in the journey of a young teacher being posted away from her city home to the bush in 1939. The girl, Ellen, overcomes obstacles and finally marries her man in similar fashion to romance novels and while the work could have easily been clichéd in this sense, the other elements that underpin the narrative, make for an interesting read.
This story, while making good use of a strong sense of place, is really about identity and how subjects change not only because of their relationship to place but also because of the events that they are forced to deal with as their life progresses. This is the strength of the narrative and it is why the reader becomes absorbed in the characters. The novel stretches over a great deal of time and the impact of the second-world war on subjectivity is what captures the reader's attention throughout. The other strength of the narrative is that the story is so convincing one finds oneself believing Ellen and some of the other characters are based on real people.
A sense of belonging and not belonging makes this story a wonderful read and one many readers will identify with.
I particularly like the way Abbott has authentically captured the sense of place and the overall theme that people change because of both life events and in relation to place. I had trouble locating the place at first, but the walnuts and bush rats eventually had me picturing Victoria. Wonderful. There were some lovely details. Ellen sitting under the trees. The one cigarette at night. The willy wagtail sounding a warning, the tawny frogmouth. A heart-warming story with a very strong ending.