That angry feeling you get when someone just turns up and starts helping themselves to your biscuits. You know. How dare they? Without even asking.
Kate Thompson’s new [adult] novel Provenance is set far from her usual Ireland. It’s about Elliot – an English doctor in Australia. After a long ago road trip with a friend, taking the scenic route to Alice Springs he has a fascination for the centre of the Australian continent, and he just can’t let it go.
Elliot wakes up in a hospital bed, and he has very little idea of what has happened to him. A brain injury prevents him from remembering, and the reader discovers alongside Elliot as the tale slowly unravels. A bit like Elliot himself, really.
The plot centres around Aboriginal art, plus Elliot’s fervent wish to drive really deep into the forbidden parts of the country outside Alice Springs. There are so many rules to do with what you are permitted to do, because the people there have rights. Except those rights get ignored by many white people, except for when it suits them to quote the rules back at someone like Elliot, the perennial outsider.
He wants to be liked, so much. And he wants to be a part of the local way of life, so much. At least he thinks he does. He puts up with things that he perhaps ought not to, until the day when someone eats his biscuits, without asking, out on a very big road trip.
But the big question is; what really happened?
Like Elliot, we learn quite a bit about the people there, their art, their wanting toyotas, the importance of initiating the young into the traditional ways, and how the white incomers have cheated them all the way. It’s not surprising things are not going well.
It’s much the same as the issue of taking biscuits that are not yours to take.
This is a well written, interesting story, showing a new Australia to the rest of the world. It’s a colourful minefield; worth visiting, but dangerous, nevertheless.