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It is very rare you pick up a book and find the essence of your cultural identity seeping off the pages. Not that I lived through the years after WWII, not that my family had the same troubles as these families. The families aren't even that sympathetic as you start reading. But the attitudes and values that they have and display are so familiar and comforting that it draws you in and makes you want to stay. Loyalty, pride, the fair go, the Aussie battler, hard work, family, friendship, finding humour in everything, every situation and everyone. It wraps you up like a large old blanket and makes you feel safe and understood.
While as I say, the families are not overly sympathetic characters to begin with, throughout the story you end up deeply caring for them. It sneaks up on you. You realise that you want to know that they are all going to be okay, because really, they are all pretty good sorts deep down. You don't necessarily agree with them or their decisions overall, but there is a deep feeling of connection when you finish the book. They creep into you, the Pickles and the Lambs. And I think that is the strength of this book. The slow, gradual, unnoticed sensation of comradery you build with the characters.
For me, the magic realism of the book wasn't really a big feature. To me, a lot of the time I didn't even think about these elements. They didn't bother me, I didn't question them. Strange things happen in the bush. You go out there long enough, particularly by yourself, in the big, wide, emptiness and you can see things. After driving 6 hours each day for the last couple of days, if I didn't have people in the car, I wouldn't have been surprised if I believed there was someone in the car with me. If I had been almost disemboweled by a kangaroo and was experiencing extreme blood loss, I would have some crazy dreams too.
I appreciated reading this book for fun and not for school where you focus on every single nuance of these elements of the story and dissecting it to death. I was happy to read and to accept that this land gets under your skin and things happen. Just like the Pickles family and the Lamb family. I am better for meeting them.