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Review: Taking Baby for a Walk by Kathryn Gossow

Publisher: Odyssey Books 2021

Early Sunday morning in the quiet country town of Stinky Gully, five-year-old Bree-Anna takes her doll Baby for a walk.

Kathyrn Gossow is a master storyteller. Her characters grit their teeth against the harsh Australian landscape she places them in and get on with the business of sharing the complexities of their lives and inner thoughts. This is the third of her novels I’ve read (though the second, The Dark Poet, was presented as a collection of short stories) and I would have no hesitation in purchasing the fourth when it comes along, or the fifth or sixth because I know I’ll be pulled into a world of flawed characters, imperfect lives, and dark situations knitted together to create one flowing story that will remain with me longer after I’ve read the final words.

Taking Baby for a Walk is a classic Gossow story of suffering, searching, and penance. When I realised it was going to be about a young child being taken, I thought it might be a bit too close to the edge, but I was wrong. And that’s because we see the kidnapping through the eyes of the child who may be young yet knows how to be brave. Bree-Anna has learned to steer a way through the dysfunction of her family and look for places of safety, both externally and internally. If ever there was proof to the old line of “be careful what you say and do in front of your children” this is it and aren’t we glad for Bree-Anna’s sake?

Bree-Anna’s tale isn’t the only being told here. Circling around the disappearance of the little girl is a community of fractured souls, each working to pull their pieces together. There’s Jake, who witnessed the kidnapping, but amidst the detritus of his own life doesn’t realise what he’s seen until days later. Elouise, a budding photographer with a keen eye for detail, dealing with her ailing father, addict brother, and married lover, and keen to move away from Stinky Gully. Mr Randall, who never quite reached emotional maturity and who unable to move on from the love/hate relationship he had with his mother. A man whose life was still controlled by her even though she was long dead.

Each character, including Bree-Anna, in their separate ways traverse similar paths, messy family life, love and loss. All in the heat of a Queensland summer. Gossow manages description beautifully, every word is precise, nothing is overdone. She strips her characters bare and rebuilds them with a gentle, careful sensibility. Her scene settings are described with the same brevity of language. Gossow is a keen observer of character and landscape, and it shows.

Go buy this one, folks. Most definitely worth it.

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