I always approach a new novel by Sonya Hartnett with a combination of excitement and apprehension. Every novel by her is different and you know you are in for an intense experience. The same is true for ‘The Ghost’s Child’, however, this time it is a more mellow novel with less disturbing overtones. ‘The Ghost’s Child’ is a fable of obsessive love and love lost, which includes fairy tale elements.
This is the story of how a young and mysterious child comes into the house of an old woman, Maddy, and she tells him the story of her life. It opens with the most beautiful and poetic prose, deceptively simple. Maddie begins her story in an everyday style but soon elements of magical realism are introduced as she describes the “nargun “, a frightening bush creature that lonely Maddy takes as her friend.
Maddy starts to tell how she began a life-long quest which her father set her: “what is the world’s most beautiful thing?”. Much of the first part of the story is taken up with her travels all over the world with her adored father to find the most beautiful thing.
The answer to Maddy’s quest seems to be that this beauty does not reside in a thing but in a person, the feral boy, Feather. Maddy comes home from her travels as an adult and falls obsessively in love with this ethereal being, a boy of the sea and the wind, who doesn’t want to be confined. She says of him “He was a kestrel, an eel, a lacewing. He begrudged nothing else in life but his life belonged absolutely to him. This is how wild things are. This is why I loved him in the first place”. We know right from the beginning that this love will be doomed as Feather is too restless to ever be satisfied with one person in one place.
This is a novel written for no particular age group and wasn’t published as a young adult novel. Adults will enjoy its poetic and lilting prose and its bittersweet conclusion. Young adults will enjoy it if they are particularly literate and willing to persist with its lyrical, sometimes slow pace. It is a book worth reading again to truly appreciate its qualities.