The Valley, Steve Hawke (Fremantle Press)
Genre: Crime, Literary Fiction
Steve Hawke’s The Valley is a stunning debut novel. Set in the Kimberley, mostly in Bunuba country, the novel charts four generations of a family whose secretive lives are centred on a hidden valley that once sheltered frontier war hero Jandamarra. As the descendants trickle from the valley to work the nearby cattle stations, an incident in Broome brings a father and son home to country, seeking answers. The narrative skilfully moves backward and forward through time, as well as laterally, resulting in a circular storytelling style that deftly gathers all the strands of history together as the novel veers toward its startling conclusion. The Valley is also a generous and heart-warming story that is beautifully written, bringing the characters and country to vivid life.
About the author
Steve Hawke grew up in Melbourne but found his way to the Northern Territory and then to the Kimberley as a nineteen-year-old in 1978. Captivated by the country, the history and the people, he stayed for almost fifteen years working for Aboriginal communities and organisations. He now lives in the hills outside Perth, but continues his strong association with the Kimberley, returning most years. His writings on the Kimberley include Noonkanbah: Whose Land, Whose Law (1989), the children’s novel Barefoot Kids (2007), the play Jandamarra that premiered at the Perth International Arts Festival in 2008 and toured the Kimberley in 2011, and A Town Is Born: The Fitzroy Crossing Story (2013). The Valley is his first novel for adults.
Questions for discussion
- Discuss what the contrasting descriptions of Broome, the cattle station and the Valley contribute to the atmosphere of the novel.
- The Valley opens with a shocking act of frontier violence. How does this ripple through the succeeding generations? Is this wound ever healed, and if so, how?
- Discuss the literal and symbolic importance of the Valley to the novel’s main characters, in the light of the cultural change that has taken place in the world outside its
- There is only one significant ‘whitefella’ character in The Valley. Discuss the ethical and practical difficulties of a non-Indigenous writer telling this kind of story. What kind of sensitivity and knowledge is required to effectively and appropriately communicate the complexity of The Valley’s Indigenous characters and their world?
- The Valley spans four generations of a family, and yet it is quite a compact and tightly plotted novel. In terms of the novel’s structure, narrative point-of-view and pacing, how has the author managed to distil this amount of temporal passage into 253 pages?
- The Valley begins with a crime, and it borrows from the crime genre in the sense that Dancer is forced to flee Broome to escape his criminal pursuers. In terms of genre or form, how would you describe the overall novel?
- The Valley contains many words in language. Did you find that this was an effective device in terms of lending an air of authenticity to the novel, while foregrounding Bunuba culture, and yet without distancing the reader?
- Discuss the use of different narrators in terms of communicating this story. Which narrator spoke to you most powerfully?
- What is the central mystery at the heart of The Valley? How is it explored as an aspect of the cultural change experienced by Two-Bob and Millie in particular? How is it resolved?
- Discuss the role of storytelling, myth and legend in terms of how the overall themes of the novel are communicated.
If you liked this book, you may also like…
- Shadow Lines, Stephen Kinnane, (Fremantle Press)
- Taboo, Kim Scott, (Picador)
- Two Sisters: A True Story, Ngarta Jinny Bent, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Pat Lowe and Eirlys Richards (Magabala Books)