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The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin (2008) – Review


The SinkingsThe Sinkings belongs in the historical fiction basket, one of my favourite sorts of stories in which “it could have been like this” – where bare facts, so far as they are known,  are imbued with the rich texture of living characters making their way through the hard stuff of real life, far more lively than ’facts’ can ever be.

This particular piece of historical fiction makes for a masterful, wonderful novel. Amanda Curtin depicts the grimmest of circumstances, but through all the grimy and bruised laminate of the hard lives of Little Jock in The Sinkings or Fish Meggie in Elemental, she somehow manages to let the light through so that what might be bleak is luminous with wisdom and richness and a sort of grounded joy. Her writing is gorgeous, enchanting, transporting, seductive; I found it difficult to put this book down (so I didn’t).

In The Sinkings two stories from different times interweave and mirror each other – that of Little Jock, an Irish intersex person (we still do not have an acceptable non-gendered pronoun), a lost child surviving the Irish famine, scratching along in the slums of Glasgow until one prison sentence too many sees him sent to the West Australian colony in the late 1800’s where his life comes to baffling and brutal end at The Sinkings; and the story of  Willa in the present time, researching Little Jock for complicated reasons of her own. Willa is a guilt-wracked and grieving mother who’s own child is lost to her because of impossible choices made early on, with terrible ramifications.

The two worlds are mirrored in a beautifully rendered examination of identity, family, choice, belonging (and not), that which we inherit and what we make of the life we land in. Little Jock and Willa both come to understand something of the complexities of becoming who we are – each ends up with a name chosen to be different to that they were given, each has to reckon with the lot of the outsider and find their ‘voice’, their way of being, a liveable life, some sort of love. Willa’s introspective examination of her own motives in dealing with her child help us understand the mystery of Jock’s savage death, or how it might have happened and within that, how decisions do and do not get made and the long runnels of consequence that shape life thereafter. Both Willa and Jock are ordinary, and in their ways, heroic. Each comes a long way, literally and metaphorically, out of the margins of life to find something  worth having – until it is taken from them and something else is found.

This is an intelligent, immensely satisfying book of wide and deep sweep; if you hadn’t picked it up yet, I loved it – 5 stars! Now, I’m going to further immerse myself in this wonderful author’s work by reading Inherited!


Author: Karen M

I am a lifelong reader and a more recent writer. I took up the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014, to join all those helping to raise the profile, hopefully worldwide, of our very own fine women writers. I'm doing it again this year because it's still a great cause and there are still a lot of great Australian women's work to read! I'm doing the Franklin again, 10 to be read, six to be reviewed. I found last year, that my reading needs to be free to roam across genres, authors, and all the rest. So, ten books and six reviews might should be manageable and I might even do more :). Reviews of other books that aren't written by Australian women are over at Goodreads ... tho' I'm not nearly so committed to writing them :)

14 thoughts on “The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin (2008) – Review

  1. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge—2014 wrap-up | looking up/looking down

  2. Pingback: Interview with ‘Elemental’ author Amanda Curtin | Australian Women Writers Challenge

  3. Pingback: January 2014 Wrap Up: Historical Fiction | Australian Women Writers Challenge

  4. Thanks for this review, Karen. As a huge fan of Elemental by Amanda Curtin, I look forward to The Sinkings with its intriguing plot.


    • Hi Angela – I read Elemental first, and like you, raved about it to all and sundry because it’s that good. I picked up The Sinkings hoping it would be as good (second books can be so disappointing), and to my great joy, it is! Therefore, Amanda Curtin is a UTF (Up There Fave) for me. You might like another of my UTF authors who writes in a similar vein; Susan Fletcher who wrote Witchlight (or Corrag). Unfortunately not Australian, so not for AWW, but also fabulous.


  5. Hi Karen. Thank you for this beautifully written review. It’s such a pleasure to know The Sinkings is still finding readers. 🙂


  6. Oh, what a fabulous review, Karen. So much so, I want to read it again! You’ve highlighted all the gorgeous detail that makes this so rich. Love it!


  7. Great review, Karen.


  8. oh, it’s every bit as good Kathleen. I reckon you’ll love this one too!


  9. Hey, Karen, this review is perfectly timed for me, having read Elemental and loved it. So I’m ready for more of Amanda’s writings and, as a result of your review, just rung Crow Books in East Vic Park and reserved their LAST copy of it to be picked up tomorrow. Thank you! 😀


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