In September 1883, a small town in the South Australian outback huddles under strange, vivid sunsets. Six-year-old Denny Wallace has gone missing during a dust storm, and the entire community is caught up in the search for him. As they scour the desert and mountains for the lost child, the residents of Fairly—newlyweds, farmers, mothers, indigenous trackers, cameleers, children, artists, schoolteachers, widows, maids, policemen—confront their relationships, both with one another and with the land-scape they inhabit.
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.