Sunday 23 October 2016

Fiction: Red Dirt by EM Reapy

Head of Zeus, €19.00

Anne Cunningham

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Red Dirt by E.M. Reapy.
Red Dirt by E.M. Reapy.

One of Australia’s best-loved poems, My Country, written by Dorothy Mackellar in 1904 includes the lines: I love a sunburnt country/A land of sweeping plains, although in the same stanza she mentions Her beauty and her terror. EM Reapy, in this startling debut novel, writes more about the terror than the beauty in her tale of three Irish backpackers in Australia, looking for work, drugs, booze, sex, adventure and some sense of hope that things will get better, as their experiences in the “sunburnt country” don’t quite work out as planned.

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Written in three parts (Me, You, Them), she follows the separate journeys of Murph, Fiona and Hopper across the unforgiving Australian outback as they seek to get out of their heads but also seek work to finance the trip. Completely cut adrift by the burst of the Celtic bubble here, they struggle on in their respective journeys across the red dirt. They each travel from one hot hell to another, from the hard graft on a mango farm in Western Australia to a filthy sex-trafficking hostel near Perth, slowly making their separate ways back east towards Sydney, and it’s no romantic odyssey. It’s a disturbing portrayal of survival against the odds and of the things these characters must do to simply survive when the Irish  emigrant dream goes belly-up.

EM Reapy has established herself as a fine short story writer, listed for the Pen International New Voices award and also featured in The Long Gaze Back, last year’s collection of short stories by Irish women writers.  Her first novel is as accomplished a debut as you’ll find. These ‘postcards from Australia’ are shocking and violent, but the bitter flashbacks to home depict an Ireland that’s just as hostile, as racist, as redneck and as hopeless. Makes you wonder where the kids are supposed to go.

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