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A lost child, a small town, a historical setting - a novel by the author of the celebrated The Night Guest

The Sun Walks Down

By Fiona McFarlane

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

The fictional town of Fairly, located in the Flinders Ranges, is populated by a collection of immigrants, settlers and Indigenous folk who arrived in Australia in search of wealth, inspiration and a new beginning, and are bound together by their experiences of the harshness of the Australian outback.

In September 1883, on the wedding day of Mina Baumann, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, a blanket of red dust envelops Fairly, and creeps through the Wallace family’s farm, Undelcarra, and across the plains. Denny Wallace, the youngest son of Matthew and Mary Wallace, is lost in the dust storm. For the next 14 days, the residents of Fairly and Undelcarra are consumed in their search for the missing boy.

Detectives from Adelaide arrive in Fairly to join the search and local Indigenous trackers and farmers band together to scour the outback. McFarlane intersperses this frantic hunt with the delirious ramblings of the lost boy who, as each day passes, increasingly confuses reality with the Dreamtime stories told to him by the Indigenous folk who worked at Undelcarra.

McFarlane uses the search for the missing boy as a common thread from which to explore the lives of different groups of people in this small settlement town. She artfully juxtaposes the perspective of the Indigenous tracker with a prodigious talent for cricket against that of the privileged landowner’s son, whose life purpose is to be the gatherer and bearer of the town’s gossip. Similarly, Cissy, the independent and capable sister of the lost boy, is a foil for the spoiled and attention seeking newlywed Mina.

McFarlane’s masterful descriptions create an immersive world for the reader, and her subtle commentary on the foibles and virtues of the inhabitants of Fairly make us to feel as if we too are inhabitants of this beautiful and harsh outback town.