by Lucy Treloar
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia 2023
When someone is taken away, what is left behind?
All her life, Till has lived in the shadow of the abduction of a childhood friend and her tormented wondering about whether she could have stopped it.
When Till, now twenty-three, senses danger approaching again, she flees her past and the hovering presence of her fearful parents. In Wirowie, a town on its knees, she stops and slowly begins creating a new life and home. But there is something menacing here too. Till must decide whether she can finally face down, even pursue, the darkness – or whether she’ll flee once more and never stop running.
Both a reckoning with fear and loss, and a recognition of the power of belonging, Days of Innocence and Wonder is a richly textured, deeply felt new novel from one of Australia’s finest writers.
by Sandra Thom-Jones
Till’s best friend was taken by ‘the man’ when she was five. Till watched her go. Why didn’t she do something? Why didn’t she scream? No one would blame a five-year-old for the actions of such an evil man, except the five-year-old herself. The narrator tells us that Till changed her name because she can’t bear to hear it spoken, and only ever refers to her missing friend as ‘E’ for the same reason.
At the age of 23, the trauma of that day still drives Till’s thoughts and actions. She packs her car and drives away, leaving her worried parents, with no certainty of where she will end up. In the car she feels safe. Finally, she stops and settles in the unlikely location of a small semi-deserted town in rural South Australia. Wirowie, and its wary residents, become her new community. Slowly, Till begins to feel safe, but is she?
This is a very Australian novel, the third by Melbourne-based writer Lucy Treloar. I found the descriptions of the settings engaging and absorbing. The sections set in metropolitan Melbourne during the Covid lockdowns brought back vivid memories of those times, and I could relate to the experiences of Till and her family. The setting of Wirowie provided an insight into the beautiful scenery of rural South Australia and the sense of community that endures in a small town even after the stores shut down and the loss of industry drives the majority of townspeople away.
I really enjoyed the way that Treloar uses aspects of the story to educate the reader. Shameful events in Australian history – from the killing of the last wild thylacine to the massacre at Kapunda and its aftermath – are woven into the story and discussed in depth, not as casual references but to educate the reader about the impact of these events in our nation’s past. In a similar way, when Till renovates the station at Wirowie, we are treated to detailed explanations of how to repair damaged stonework and other DIY skills.
The book was not what I expected from the title; there is little ‘innocence and wonder’ in the experiences of Till and her companions. There were a few aspects of the plot that jarred for me and left me with unanswered questions. However, there is a depth of description, well-crafted characters, and much to ponder on the nature of fear, safety and community.