The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
By Thomas Keneally
Angus & Robertson, 1972
(My copy: Flamingo, 1984)
I wonder if this book would have attracted my attention if it had not been for the ‘Booker Prize’ shortlist? Truthfully, I would guess not. A relatively short book, (my copy only being 178 pages), with a back cover blurb that suggested anger and despair. That is what I got! The comment from the New York Times, ‘A lean, spare, menacing novel’ is exactly what it is.
Written in short, somewhat unemotional terse text, similar, I think, to the way that Hemingway wrote, the seeming lack of exploration of the character’s well being served, at the beginning, to give a disjointed tale of separate short episodes that failed to join up. Until, that is, the chant of Jimmie rises out of the pages and almost thumps you on the nose! Then, during the course of half a page, the tale sticks together like glue. All the previous episodes come back to your mind; you almost know where he is going next, and why. The underdog fights back! The writing style, while clearly remaining the same, appears different somehow. Where the book could be put up and down at will, the turning of Jimmie also turned me; I suddenly wanted to turn the page as fast as I could.
But will you change your opinion of Jimmie? Perhaps, but I didn’t really get to like him in the beginning, so I was certainly not going to change my opinion half way through. Not because of who is, or what he does, but I didn’t feel I was being let into his life. Nor did I particularly like his victims. Yes, I’m afraid there are victims of his violence. While I didn’t like the way that Jimmie was treated, just because he was an Aborigine, the retribution did seem extreme. But perhaps I just think that because I’m not subject to that sort of minority abuse. Where is anybody’s snapping point? We all like to think we can stay in command of our emotions, but how would any of us react when our family is threatened? That, I think, is the real point of this story; if the underdog has nothing left in defence, then the only thing to do is attack. It has been happening all over the whole world throughout history, and will probably still be doing so in a thousand years time.
In 1978, this true story was turned into a film although I have not watched it, so am unable to compare with the written text. I would imagine though, that the picture image quite graphic and bloody; beware. I hope to have given you some idea as to the book quality without disclosing the plot; that does sometimes spoil it if you know what happens. I can tell you though, that it is not on my list for a second reading.
BookerBookBloke verdict 6/10
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