Book Review Series: The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean

The NCRCL Book Review Series is a monthly series written by a NCRCL student published on the first Wednesday of every month. The aim of this series is to reflect the diverse research areas of NCRCL’s students and open a dialogue about particular texts, themes, and traditions. 

Review of The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean (2013)

by Sinead Moriarty

Comity Pinny’s mother is dead, her life is falling apart and she is effectively alone in the vast wilderness of the Australian Outback. But, just like many of McCaughrean’s other young female protagonists, Comity is independent, courageous and determined to persevere. Comity’s father, Herbert Pinny, is Stationmaster at Kinkindele Telegraph Repeater Station Number Four, and it is for love of him that her mother left her home to move to one of ‘the loneliest, most god-forsaken patches of nowhere on the whole continent of Australia.’ But he cannot cope with the loss of his wife, or the grief of his daughter and so instead he uses his job as a telegrapher – a communicator – to totally isolate himself. McCaughrean examines communication and human connections in many ways throughout the novel, through Herbert Pinny’s job, in the inventive letters that Comity sends to her cousins, and through the oral tales and bible stories which become entwined and transformed through telling and retelling.

Through Comity’s friendship with Fred, a young local Aboriginal boy, we see the power of words, of stories and of communication – to change people’s perception of people and places. Comity begins to see the beauty that Fred has always seen in the surrounding landscape. What Comity always understood as wilderness, is, to Fred, refuge, safety and home. He shows her the places steeped in local legends, and shows her how to see these stories as part of the landscape. Fred is, in many ways, Comity’s salvation. However their friendship is complicated by the simmering racial tension that grows throughout the novel which is exacerbated by the new station assistant Quartz Hogg.

Despite Comity’s courage, as the pressures builds the weight of the burden which Comity carries sometimes becomes too much. Comity’s grief bubbles throughout the novel, boiling over at times, “Like a dust storm grief spun in through the myrtle trees and smashed Comity in the face, choking, stinging, blinding. She stood on the verandah and wailed and screamed and sobbed for the loss of her mother.” McCaughrean does not shrink from portraying the real grief of loss. At one point in the novel the narration shifts to the viewpoint of another stationmaster Mr Boyce who arrives at Kinkindele to find Comity alone and Herbert Pinny virtually comatose. The switch in the narration is indicative of Comity’s inability to cope. In interview, McCaughrean says that she did deliberate about the switch, and about showing Comity as an overwhelmed child questioning “was that an adult thing to have done? Should I have made Comity strong enough and clever enough not to need adult intervention? But it didn’t feel honest or plausible. So I couldn’t.” (1) Because in the end Comity is a child, struggling to cope in extreme circumstances and her eventual collapse is simply human fallibility. The Middle of Nowhere is a beautifully written, complex book from an author who is adept at interweaving fiction, history and myth, and does so once again to great effect.


About the Reviewer:

Name: Sinead Moriarty, current PhD student in Children’s Literature at Roehampton.
Research Area: Wilderness and Wild landscapes in British and Irish Children’s Literature.
Path to Roehampton in 140 characters: B.A. in English and Film Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. M.A. in Children’s Literature at Roehampton. A year of working, and missing Children’s Literature, before I returned (joyfully) to start a PhD in Jan 2013.
Favourite (secret) re-read: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle! I buy it for every neice/nehew/cousin I know and read it again before handing it over.
Unsung Picture Book: This Is Not My Hat by Jon Kassen
Unsung Young Adult Novel: The Island by Eilis Dillon

Series edited by Erica Gillingham

Children’s Literature: a Critical Masterclass

Children’s Literature: a Critical Masterclass
Wednesday 5 February, 1pm
Convent Parlour, Roehampton

You are invited to a Children’s Literature Critical Masterclass next Wednesday lunchtime. We are very lucky to have not just one but two eminent children’s literature professors visiting Roehampton next Wednesday. Peter Hunt, Professor Emeritus of Cardiff University will be joined by David Rudd, Professor of Children’s Literature at the University of Bolton. Both are renowned international critics and authors of seminal works in the field, and have actively promoted children’s literature in English departments. Peter Hunt’s most recent publication is How Did Long John Silver Lose his Leg?: and Twenty-Six Other Mysteries of Children’s Literature and David Rudd has just published Reading the Child in Children’s Literature: An Heretical Approach.

They will be talking about their experiences and sharing their wisdom – you are all welcome to come along with questions about children’s literature studies: history, theory, criticism, education, research, careers, examining – anything you want to know! It promises to be a lively lunch hour.