Review: The Boundary by Nicole Watson


Title: The Boundary

Author: Nicole Watson

Published:  UQP 2011

Synopsis: When a multi million-dollar development threatens the sacred site of one of Australia&’s Aboriginal populations, the Corrowa people file a native claim over the site. Hours after Justice Brosnan rejects the claim, he is dead. Days later, the developer’s lawyer is also killed. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the key to unlocking the murderer’s identity is the single red feather left behind at each crime scene.  Filled with suspense and grisly detail, this book follows detectives Jason Matthews, a young Aboriginal policeman, and Andrew Higgins, a wizened cop possessed by his need for revenge, as they attempt to investigate the murders and stay impartial. A fast-paced crime novel as well as a cutting social commentary, this narrative puts native title and contemporary Australian issues under the microscope, exposing a nation still struggling to come to terms with its bleak past

Status: Read on July 21, 2012

My Thoughts:

Despite reading 63 books so far this year for the Australian Women Writing Challenge, none have been written by indigenous women. Determined to rectify that oversight I requested The Boundary by Nicole Watson from my library. Nicole Watson is a member of the Birri-Gubba People and the Yugambeh language group. Her experience as a lawyer working in Legal Aid, the National Native Title Tribunal, and the Environmental Protection Agency is evident in this novel, as is her identification as an aboriginal woman.

While I appreciate the way in which The Boundary elucidates the appalling past and present treatment of Aboriginals in Australian society, for me, the political and social issues explored in The Boundary tended to overwhelm the narrative.  There are four deaths over the course of the story, all high profile figures involved in denying a Native Title claim. At each scene red feathers are discovered, the significance of which eventually becomes clear near the end of the novel, and investigators suspect that each man knew his killer. I’m not sure how to explain why I feel the murders were sidelined from the story but they seemed almost incidental to the broader indigenous issues like Native Title claim and The Stolen Generation, as well as the more personal problems of the characters in a novel classified as crime fiction.

Miranda is the Aboriginal lawyer who has worked on the Native claim title for six years only to have it denied. The stress of the trial and her feelings of failure have resulted in alcoholism which threatens to ruin her life. Jason, an investigating police officer, finds himself torn between his identity as the son of a white middle class family and the genetics that mark him as Aboriginal. Ethel, Miranda’s elderly aunt, is still haunted by the experiences of her youth. Each of these characters is intriguing in their own right but further crowd the novel with issues rather than story.

While the themes and issues of The Boundary deserve to explored in Australian fiction, I think it was too ambitious to include so many of them within the scope of this novel. Yet this is an intriguing, if demanding book with fascinating and confronting insights into indigenous issues. Well worth the read if you go in without any preconceived notions of genre.

Available to Purchase

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 17:33:44

    Great review Shelleyrae, sounds like it took great thought.



  2. Amritorupa Kanjilal
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 17:34:16

    A single read feather… that makes it sound like it’s a worthwhile thriller even if you ignore the underlying indigenous issues!
    Thank you for the review!



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Aug 01, 2012 @ 09:32:33

      I’d agree Amri except the indigenous issues are impossible to ignore and the crime/thriller aspect of the novel suffers for it.



  3. bernadetteinoz
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 17:37:49

    Interesting thoughts Shelleyrae. I think notions of genre have really hurt fiction in recent years – when I first started reading (back when dinosaurs walked the earth) there was never as much categorisation as there is today and I do think it hurts in some cases, especially books like this which don’t easily fit into any one category and by placing it firmly in the crime genre sets a certain expectation as you had.

    I thought this an excellent book though I don’t disagree that it’s not a traditional crime novel – but it does approach issues which are under-represented in fiction, especially as told by indigenous writers.



  4. Leeswammes
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 19:54:18

    Sounds like an interesting book, but it seems the reader is given more information than needed – and feels like a kind of forcing information on the reader in order to educate them. I dislike that – I feel it a little with a book I’m reading at the moment, The Cathedral of the Sea (Ildephonso Falcones) where I learn much more about Barcelona in the 14th Century than I’m interested in, although the story as such is pretty good.



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Aug 01, 2012 @ 09:27:35

      I think there is a bit of that happening Judith in the author’s enthusiasm to explore indigenous issues.



  5. Elizabeth Lhuede
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 15:39:31

    Thanks for the review, Shelleyrae, and for highlighting the problem of expectations when it comes to a book that is marketed as crime, but which, as you point out, raises so many other issues. In this respect, The Boundary reminded me of Wendy James’ The Mistake, in that the “crime” is definitely not the central focus. I haven’t read Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice but, judging from reviews, I suspect it may also have difficulty fitting into the crime genre. Some of Caroline Overington’s, too, strike me in this way.

    For all that, I really enjoyed The Boundary. I learned a lot about Indigenous politics, and thought Watson’s portrayal of urban Aboriginal groups, and particularly enjoyed reading of the diversity and division among different Aboriginal communities. The fact that “white” Australia was “the other” in this book made it, for me, compelling reading.



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  7. kathy d.
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 21:06:35

    From a reader over in the States who knows little about the history and current situation of Indigenous peoples in Australia, I thought this book was excellent.
    It combined a murder mystery with some history of oppression and current discriminatory laws, government practices and police brutality, among other horrors.
    I learned quite a bit and enjoyed the book as crime fiction, too.
    I have no problems reading books with lots of social issues, as long as it doesn’t read like a textbook. Every issue, historical and current, was written into the story.
    There are many crime fiction novels out like this today, such as series set during WWII, which tell much about what was happening amid a mystery setting.
    I appreciated this book and am now lending it to friends. I’d like to read more books by Nicole Watson. The book led me to look up interviews with her, which I found quite informative, and also to read about the Indigenous movement in Australia, and to read about the author’s father, Sam Watson, who is a leader in the Indigenous community.
    Mystery readers have different tastes, like everyone does about all kinds of art.
    I happen to like this and want more of it. This is one way I learn.



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