Read IN BED: All Our Shimmering Skies
Words by Suyin Cavanagh
Always look up has become a modern adage and this simple saying takes on mythic proportions in Trent Dalton’s, All our Shimmering Skies. A tale where ‘sky gifts’ appear and fall to the earth in unexpected moments, and act as ancient symbols, echoing across space and time.
Dalton creates a strange and wild new reality, transporting us to Darwin Australia, 1936 and the early scenes are set in Hollow Wood Cemetery. The story hinges on our young heroine Molly Hook, who is being raised by her brutish and disturbed uncle Aubrey and resigned, broken father Horace Hook. The brothers are caretakers of the dead through their burial work. Best known as the gravedigger's daughter, Molly starts digging graves at the tender age of 7 with a shovel (her shovel and friend), baptised as Bert.
Amongst this unusual childhood we learn of Molly’s passion for classical poetry and writers instilled by her mother Violet Berry. Like Violet, Molly is a voracious reader and this connection is a thread to her mum, giving Molly an uncanny ability to write poetic epitaphs for even the simplest town folk, and seems to foster her link to unseen realms.
Amongst this unusual childhood we learn of Molly’s passion for classical poetry and writers instilled by her mother Violet Berry.
The first ‘sky gift’ is a pan left by Molly’s mother. Not a domestic pan, one made of solid copper, moulded specifically in a shape and for the purpose of discerning slithers of gold amongst grit and dirt. The pan is inscribed with a map and tiny instructions in glittering writing leading to Longcoat Bob and a cave filled with gold. Bob is an indigenious elder, and human gateway to the golden cave hidden in the deep bush. While the gold is plentiful in this mysterious place, it is believed by the Berry family and town folk that Molly’s grandfather, Tom Berry’s bounty of gold came with a curse and turned their human hearts to stone, and also responsible for the malady of grave misfortunes which struck the Berry family afterwards.
Our odyssey truly begins when Molly and Greta Maze, a local street smart actress and town beauty, leave behind a desolate Darwin after the bombing attack by Japanese forces in 1942. The unlikely pair, Greta begrudgingly, set out on a quest in search of Longcoat Bob to lift the curse on the Berry family with the first ‘sky gift’ a cryptic map on a pan as their obscure guide.
A third surprise travelling companion, and our second ‘sky gift’ is Yukio Miki, a fallen Japanese fighter pilot caught in the storm of WWII, longing to end it all with a single bullet and be reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Nara.
Dalton reveals more of Yukio through an array of haunting segways which are interwoven into the main canvas. The sketches create intricate, touching layers illustrated by Yukio’s flashbacks to his motherland and imaginary conversations with Nara. These conversations are entwined by Dalton with graceful delicacy and beauty, an art form unto themselves.
“ There are things in the world down here so beautiful that they must have been made by you. The pilot runs his hands through a bed of vivid purple flowers and then to a thick grey eucalypt covered in so many hanging red and green figs they could form a dress for the tree. Or a silk kimono. There are birds in the trees with orange breasts that glow like the setting sun and azure shoulders that shine like a blue moon.”
As the odyssey continues and the pace accelerates, readers are exposed to a visual feast, where vivid scenes of the harsh and stunning Australian bush are etched out in sonic detail. Molly, Greta and Yukio become beloved characters and the entire tale begins to transmute into a shimmering night sky filled with forgiveness, possibility and open hearted wonder. A pure joy to behold!
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