Publisher: UWA Publishing
Published: May 2023
Brendan Ritchie’s latest novel, Eta Draconis introduces readers to school leaver Elora and her older sister Vivienne, who are driving from their home on WA’s south coast to university in the city. But they are doing so at a time when the world is facing an unprecedented event: a prolonged meteor shower that continues to cause widespread destruction.
Ritchie himself travelled between Esperance and Perth during his undergraduate degree, and his familiarity with the landscape is evident in descriptions of the changing vegetation. As the sisters make their way north, they drive past “dirty-beige patchwork” of wheat and barley paddocks, which give way to “thick scrub” and then trees that are “spindly and broken, hugging the edge of the highway to escape the engulf of the farmland”, before they reach the “whiteness and glare” of salt lakes and beyond.
But it is also a landscape dramatically transformed by the impact of the meteor shower, known as Eta Draconis. There are “blackened rims of two impact craters, side by side in a paddock”, land that is “charred and flattened as if by a hurricane” and farms with “empty sheds, rusted machinery and neatly fenced paddocks of nothingness”. There is an increasing sense of desperation when, again and again, Elora and Vivienne face detours and roadblocks, both literal and metaphorical.
Although Eta Draconis is not a pandemic novel, readers will recognise the range of reactions and behaviour Elora and Vivienne encounter. The sisters’ own actions reflect not only who they are as individuals but their fractured relationship with each other. While Vivienne dares to plan for a future beyond university, Elora increasingly doubts her dreams of studying drama and considers turning back.
Part road trip, part coming-of-age story, part dystopian fiction, Eta Draconis explores our responses to uncertainty, the co-existence of despair and hope in a crisis, and how such circumstances bring out the worst and best of humanity in this complex, messy world of ours.