All Our Shimmering Skies is a bold, rapturous book that fans of magical realism, fantasy and adventure will adore.
I was captivated within the first few pages by the strange, nightmarish world created by author Trent Dalton. Young gravedigger girl Molly Hook lives with her alcoholic and abusive uncle and father at Hollow Wood Cemetery, Darwin. In 1942, as Japan attacks Australia, 12-year-old Molly flees deep into the country in search of a mysterious elder who she believes has placed a curse on her family.
As Molly’s odyssey begins, the bleak opening chapters give way to something akin to a technicolour fairytale. An explosion of colour and imagination is crammed into every page; it’s like the literary equivalent of Graeme Base’s incredible illustrations in The Eleventh Hour.
The story becomes a Wizard-of-Oz-style quest; a motley crew travelling together towards a mystical sorcerer, each individual searching for their own answers.
Part-adventure, part-love letter to the strange and beautiful Australian wilderness, All Our Shimmering Skies unfolds with the saturation dial turned way up, as Dalton creates a fantastical world with a cast of wonderfully-named characters such as Greta Maze, Sam Greenway and Longcoat Bob.
Occasionally, Dalton lost me a little; some parts of the journey didn’t feel entirely necessary, and at times the descriptive language diminished the power and momentum of the story (at the start of the novel Dalton establishes some epithets that give the writing a beautifully poetic electricity).
Yet the entire book is underpinned by Dalton’s signature big-hearted approach to storytelling. His awe for the natural Australia he has experienced is apparent, and the book is testament to his love for his daughters (the character of Molly Hook was inspired by them), and his fundamental belief in the power of hope and goodness and love itself.
This is the perfect read for anyone who wants to be transported to another world. In other words, the perfect read for COVID times.