'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 21 March 2011

Review: The Golden Day

It's 1967 and Ronald Ryan has been hanged in Melbourne. Miss Renshaw, the teacher with springy hair and the stance of a lion, tells her girls they will visit the Ena Thompson Memorial Gardens to ponder this tragic occurrence, and to think about death.

So sets a gently ominous tone on the very first page of The Golden Day, the latest novel by talented author Ursula Dubosarsky.

So, eleven little girls trot along the streets in their sweet straw hats to the Ena Thompson Memorial Gardens to ponder death but they know there's another reason Miss Renshaw is keen to visit the gardens. It's gentle groundskeeper Morgan - a gardener, hippie, poet and teacher-smoocher.

Miss Renshaw is breathless around Morgan. She is enamoured by his poetic and artistic ways, and tells the little girls how very lucky they are . . . Morgan will be taking them all to a cave on the beach to see actual Aboriginal cave paintings!

But when the girls reach the cave, via sharp rocks, scraped knees and a naked man just out from a swim, they're nervous. They don't want to go inside the cave with the entryway so low they need to crawl. Little Bethany starts to cry. They don't want to go, yet that cannot stay outside on the sand alone. They must go in with their teacher and her lover.

So in they go. But they don't last long. Very soon, the eleven little girls are crawling back through the cave's entrance to await their teacher.

But Miss Renshaw does not follow.

What does follow is a micro peek into the working of the minds of eleven little girls and their school . . . the secrets, the fear, the unknown, the scandal, the ghosts. Death. How do the girls deal with this terrible loss? What of the school? And what of the friendships between the girls?

And more than that - did Miss Renshaw really die?

Delicately scripted with little sequestered hooks that add up through the book to provide a softly haunting mood, The Golden Day is visual, questioning, subtle and dreamlike, which only adds to its eerie feel. Dubosarsky's well-rounded characters are charming and evocative. The author has an indelible knack for painting with words - her visual language is a joy to immerse yourself in - and it's always why I go back for more.

Part fiction, part metaphysical work, part history-lesson and a skerrick of autobiography (Dubosarsky also went to a girls' school but her teachers did come home from excursions!) this book will entrance older readers and take younger readers through a more sophisticated storyline, with concepts that are nonetheless readily accessible at a more tender age.

Madeline meets Picnic at Hanging Rock, this gentle yet haunting tale will leave the reader wondering about life, death, secrets and reality . . .

Title: The Golden Day
Author: Ursula Dubosarsky
Publisher: A&U, $19.99
Publication Date: April 2011
ISBN: 9781742374710
Format: Soft cover
For ages: 8 - 14
Type: Fiction