Title: All Our Shimmering Skies
Author: Trent Dalton
Published: September 28th 2020
Publisher: 4th Estate AU -HarperCollins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Darwin, 1942, and as Japanese bombs rain down, motherless Molly Hook, the gravedigger’s daughter, is looking to the skies and running for her life. Inside a duffel bag she carries a stone heart, alongside a map to lead her to Longcoat Bob, the deep-country sorcerer who she believes put a curse on her family. By her side are the most unlikely travelling companions: Greta, a razor-tongued actress, and Yukio, a fallen Japanese fighter pilot. The treasure lies before them, but close behind them trails the dark. And above them, always, are the shimmering skies.
A story about gifts that fall from the sky, curses we dig from the earth and the secrets we bury inside ourselves, All Our Shimmering Skies is an odyssey of true love and grave danger, of darkness and light, of bones and blue skies. It is a love letter to Australia and an ode to the art of looking up – a buoyant, beautiful and magical novel, abrim with warmth, wit and wonder.
No weights of gold to measure
Only scales of truth and lies
For we are living treasure treasure
Under all our shimmering skies
Australian author Trent Dalton wowed readers and critics alike with his debut novel, Boy Swallows Universe, which was released in 2018. Dalton returns with a new offering, All Our Shimmering Skies. Dalton’s second novel features one of the most stunning cover designs I have encountered. Inside this beautiful cover is a story of Australia’s past, good people, villains, magic, folklore, belief, friendship, adventure, treasure, survival and unexpected gifts. It is a unique novel penned by one of our country’s rising stars in the publishing world.
Situated in wartime Darwin, Trent Dalton travels back to the year 1942, with a young gravedigger’s daughter named Molly Hook as the head guide of this tale. Molly is a young girl who has suffered a great deal of hardship in her young life, yet she toils on, guided by the beauty of the skies above. Molly knows that her family is cursed, so she sets off an adventure to put things right. With only a small bag, a stone heart and a map, Molly hopes to encounter Longcat Bob, a man she believes will release her family from their dreaded curse. Along the way, Molly encounters an unlikely set of allies. Greta is an aspiring actress and Yukio is a fallen Japanese fighter pilot. Together they join Molly on this quest through outback Australia. Dangerous and life changing, this sojourn will change these three souls forever. With a curse to remove, secrets to unveil and treasure to uncover, Molly knows that nothing is certain, except for the shimmering skies that follow her on this amazing journey.
All Our Shimmering Skies is a surreal novel of sorts, offering a spectacular vision of Australia’s past. With a touch of magic, folklore, culture, the landscape, history, war, trauma, persecution, prejudice, love, friendship and family defining the second novel from highly acclaimed author Trent Dalton, this is an all-encompassing piece. Ambitious, poetic, lyrical and descriptive, All Our Shimmering Skies is a tale brimming with individuality.
There were things I valued and appreciated very much about All Our Shimmering Skies, but there were also areas of this tale that I admit completely passed me by. On a positive note, I adored the historical setting. I think Trent Dalton managed to recreate Darwin during the Second World War with complete realism, authenticity and historical insight. I felt like I lived and breathed this perilous time in Australia’s past with Dalton and his characters. I despaired at the Japanese threat, I sat on tenterhooks as the evacuation process began and I felt the direct impact on the everyday lives of the people of Darwin. I couldn’t get enough of this historical stage and I appreciated Dalton’s input. All Our Shimmering Skies was clearly very well researched, which has ensured that the wartime sequences featured in the novel appeared vivid and reflective of times past.
Dalton has conjured up an eclectic and memorable set of characters. From the touching and naïve Molly Hook, our central narrator, to the glamorous movie star Greta and the gentle soul of the Japanese fighter pilot Yukio, I liked how Dalton managed to link together this very unlikely trio. The friendship, respect, appreciation, comradery and genuine sense of togetherness that emerges from this group made this story a joy to read. In his supporting cast, Dalton has managed to populate his second novel with a great mix of villains and heroes. I liked the careful balance of these figures.
I cannot fault Dalton’s prose. I found Dalton’s writing style to be rich, layered and vibrant. I also liked the very unique format of typesetting each new chapter heading vertically, it was a really interesting approach! I grew very fond of Dalton’s descriptions of the surrounding Australian landscape and the references to key flora and fauna from the region. From the caves, waterholes, rocky terrain and forest environments, the beauty of Australia’s natural stage is showcased throughout All Our Shimmering Skies. I loved the various references to the changing colours of our skies, which often complimented the mood and direction of the tale. I definitely appreciated the imagery. I think Dalton has a clear gift for this style of storytelling, it was quite a magical dreamlike spectacular, almost like a Baz Luhrmann production.
The element that didn’t work for me and this novel was the magical realism parts. I found it very hard to believe in some of the aspects of the narrative that I was presented with. I often struggle with this form of narrative and storytelling, so I’m not surprised I experienced difficulty with these unbelievable aspects of All Our Shimmering Skies. I will say that I liked the device of the gifts from the sky. I think this was a remarkable narrative strand that really worked to tie everything together.
With echoes of trauma, violence, persecution and loss directing the pathway of All Our Shimmering Skies, the guiding light of gentle characters, heroic acts, altruism, belief, a textured history and an awe-inspiring landscape powers through Trent Dalton’s novel. All Our Shimmering Skies is an enlightening and slightly offbeat story from a novelist who continues to grow in popularity.
All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton was published on 28th September 2020 by 4th Estate AU – HarperCollins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of All Our Shimmering Skies, Trent Dalton visit here.
*Thanks extended to HarperCollins Books Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.