All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton [5/10]

Trent Dalton’s debut, Boy Swallows Universe, was a bravura coming-of-age delight. “All Our Shimmering Skies” arcs up the core features of the debut – the focus on a troubled youth, the elements of magical realism, the fizzing style – but overreaches. The story of Molly, graveyard orphan girl, and her quest across the fantastical terrain of the Northern Territory at the time of the WWII Darwin bombings, is impressive at the page level, but I found its unrelenting appeal to talking skies, talking spirits, and Grand Guignol plot escalations leached away any character identification. Whereas in Boy Swallows Universe, Eli, the starring boy, seemed heroic, this time Molly is rendered as a declaiming cardboard heroine. The core villain is straight out of gothic Victorian novels. Only one character retains any life beyond the page: Japanese kamikaze pilot Yukio. Dalton conveys Darwin with great gusto, yet the drama-imbued Australian bush somehow comes across as a movie set. All in all, there is much to admire in the literary gymnastics in All Our Shimmering Skies, and it delivers a quick read in spite of its length, but we will need to await Trent Dalton’s third novel to see him at his most potent.

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