2018 - Winner
This breathtaking novel by Kim Scott offers a narrative of redemption set on massacre country in Western Australia. Taboo is a powerfully mystical story where dead creatures spring to life out of campfires and wheat trucks, and where Aboriginal ancestors rustle and murmur as they are awakened by the acts of the living. Scott writes here with tender determination about the imperative for Australia to transcend trauma of many kinds, to imagine Aboriginal people not ‘busted and broken’.
Together, the two sides of history stumble forward in these pages towards a new understanding. Gerry Coolman, a Noongar hero, makes a pilgrimage through a lightning storm in the footsteps of his ancestors; a second Gerry Coolman, his twin, chooses badly, damaging others as well as himself. And Tilly, the niece of both, ultimately finds a place to belong, and discovers that she is far from the orphan she has imagined herself to be.
As a portrait of one Aboriginal extended family, Taboo is an outstanding work of fiction. Scott has created a cast of enigmatic, impossible-to-label characters, who slip between heroism and viciousness, the present and the past, while attempting to reconcile with their painful histories. As an act of the imagination, the novel is heartbreaking, lyrical and momentous. Writing from a Noongar community which has recently negotiated a settlement with the West Australian state, Scott has not only produced a literary triumph; he has also penned Australia’s first post-treaty novel.