To make such worked-over material new and interesting, in other words, you have to be extremely good. Well then, Ms. McFarlane must be extremely good indeed, because her novel is a thrilling success. The Sun Walks Down intelligently continues Australia’s historical and literary tradition but feels unburdened by its heritage and unconstrained by ideological agendas. Its retelling is both more down-to-earth than usual melodramas of disappearance...and more expansive ... There are instances when Ms. McFarlane’s messaging becomes explicit ... But mostly the novel exploits its premise to delve into the many meanings of settlement and lostness as they pertain to civilization, family, love and the creation of art ... Ms. McFarlane spins a novel full of mystery and wonder.
Engrossing ... She has taken this stark historical canvas and populated it with unforgettably rendered characters and places. McFarlane’s version gives voice not only to men, both white and black, but also to a compelling array of women and girls, each with her own accomplishments, desires, and disappointments ... McFarlane, deploying a divine perspective that slips, deftly fluid, into the minds of many of her characters, takes the long hunt for Denny as the novel’s frame, within which she conjures the complexities, idiosyncrasies, ambitions, struggles, and passions of a family and a community.
Masterful storytelling ... As McFarlane ushers in and fleshes out her characters, her narrative takes the form of rotating perspectives and crisscrossing storylines ... McFarlane interlards accounts of the search and snapshots of lives with a selection of other writings...all of which add diverse tones and hues to the proceedings ... The Sun Walks Down may lack the element of mystery that pervaded McFarlane’s previous book, but it makes up for it with its supply of high-stakes drama. Tension mounts every time tragedy looms or disaster strikes. We read on with queasy dread ... But we also read on captivated by the novel’s beautiful prose and polyphonic voices, and marveling at both its epic scope and rare intimacy.
Eloquent ... The novel’s plot pivots around the search for a 6-year-old boy who has gone missing in a dust storm. Young Denny lives just outside the newly settled town of Fairly and, as his absence stretches from one day to the next and then the next, the tensions beneath the surface of this fledgling society become more apparent.
It’s fascinating, little-known subject matter and the opening is full of promise as McFarlane introduces the vanguard of her large cast with ease ... A supple narrative voice ... The desert is a character, too, otherworldly yet resistant to lazy exoticism. McFarlane’s treatment of the dust storm has a simple Steinbeckian majesty ... Sadly, all this lovely tension soon unravels. That supple narrative voice starts to feel slack as more characters are added ... Looking back through the book, I found I’d already forgotten who several people were. Particularly forced are sections voiced in the first person for marginal characters such as Aboriginal and Irish housemaids and an Afghan cameleer. I got the sense that McFarlane was trying to cram in people from as many walks of life as possible.
The historical setting and traditional plot of The Sun Walks Down are new departures, and in other hands could have gone horribly wrong ... Gloriously orchestrated ... Land acknowledgements come cheap: this book earns its place by the simultaneous seriousness and playfulness of its commitment to all the voices in the contested times and spaces of its setting. McFarlane knows what she’s doing, and she does it exceptionally well.
Ambitious ... McFarlane amplifies her theme in ways that are often touching and ingenious ... A likeable addition to the tradition of which it forms a part: its style is at once spare and attentive to detail, and Fiona McFarlane has a sharp eye for historical injustices. But the ambitious scale inevitably creates problems for the author ... While fulfilling the cultural ambition of the book, these add to its mood of restlessness. In one sense this is fine – the story is primarily concerned with obstacles to feeling comfortably at home. In another it causes concerns of the kind that Henry James warned about when discussing multiple points of view: no matter how much we might sympathize with the reasons for its inclusiveness, the novel’s frequent reframings test the resilience of our emotional engagement.
Scaffolded by detailed research into its time and place ... As we inhabit new perspectives, we learn new details that add depth and texture – from secrets revealed, to different ways of experiencing the world ... McFarlane’s novel meditates on how select perspectives are captured, crafted and preserved as culturally meaningful through art.
This is a careful and clever novel. With a masterful hand, McFarlane laces together multiple points of view from a diverse range of voices, drawing together a complex but compelling narrative ... Through her close, perceptive examination of character, McFarlane brings us into the world of these people and forces us to critically examine their motivations and behaviour ... an excellent, layered work of literary historical fiction.
Fiona McFarlane doesn’t just describe the landscape of 1880s rural, colonial Australia, she slices it open and dissects it. The effect is visceral ... The novel presents a cast of characters, all fully fleshed out and familiar ... McFarlane should be celebrated for this book; it is excellent and thoroughly engaging.
Leisurely ... The Sun Walks Down should be read not for narrative action but rather for the minutely observed relationships among its characters, as Denny’s disappearance is less of a mystery than it is a plot device that allows McFarlane to explore her themes. She does this beautifully.
Told in effortlessly shifting perspectives, The Sun Walks Down features a large cast of memorable, finely drawn characters ... Compelling and unsentimental ... McFarlane offers a fresh take on the familiar tale of a missing child and adds new voices and depth to stories of a country’s pioneer past.
Offers intimate human drama, ruminations on the intersections of art and life, and a sweeping, still relevant view of race and class in Australia—and by extension, the U.S. ... The suspense story...is a strong foundation for the novel’s larger ambitions. The treacherous beauty of Australia’s landscape comes vividly to life as a metaphor for the multiple human dramas unfolding ... A masterpiece of riveting storytelling.
Expansive ... Though there isn’t much of a plot, the vivid descriptions of the landscape, a lived-in feeling community, dozens of well-defined characters, and an honest look at the uneasy relationship between settlers and Australia’s Indigenous population carry the reader along.