A moving and brilliant literary novel about the last days of legendary bushranger Ben Hall.
The thought was coming more often. That wherever he was, he was at the centre of a cage. He couldn't have said when the notion first entered his head. Some time in the last months. It was more now than a notion, he could see the damn bars. They were grey steel, the height of a man on horseback. In a dream he'd ridden out of a clump of boulders and caught them just before they retreated, how he knew what they looked like.
It is 1865. For three years Ben Hall and the men riding with him have been lords of every road in mid-western New South Wales from Bathurst to Goulburn, Lambing Flat to Forbes. But with the Harbourers' Act made law, coach escorts armed now with the new Colt revolving rifle, and mailbags more often containing cheques than banknotes, being game is no longer enough. The road of negotiated surrender is closed. Jack Gilbert has shot dead a police sergeant at Jugiong. Constable Nelson, father of eight, lies buried at Collector, killed by John Dunn. Neither time did Ben pull the fatal trigger, but he too will hang if ever the three are taken. Harry Hall is seven. Ben has not seen the boy since his wife Biddy left to live with another man, taking Harry with her. The need to see his son, to be in some way a father again, has grown urgent. But how much time is left before the need to give the game away and disappear becomes the greater urgency?
A spare, epic work of haunting beauty that breathes life back into legend and confirms Shearston as one of Australia's finest writers.
Read Caroline Baum's Review
I wish this was called something else.
You'd never guess from the title that it was a novel about Ben Hall, the notorious bushranger, and his relationship with his son Harry.
You'd also never guess that it was beautifully written, authentic, unromantic, atmospheric and full of psychological nuance. But it is all that and more, and a very welcome addition to the bushranger literature of Peter Carey, Rob Drewe and Courtney Collins.
The women - wives, and sisters of outlawed men, are especially well drawn, strong and forthright. And the life of the men, hiding out in the bush, their fireside banter, feels real and believable in its discomforts, companionship, risk and grime.
About the Author
Trevor Shearston is the author of Something in the Blood (UQP, 1979); Sticks That Kill (UQP, 1983); White Lies (UQP, 1986); Concertinas (Bantam Books, 1988); A Straight Young Back (Flamingo, 2000) and Dead Birds (HarperCollins, 2007). He lives in Katoomba, NSW with his family.
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Comments about Game:
Game is a novel imagining the last months of bushranger Ben Hall.
Structured around real events, Shearston's book tries to see the man behind the legend. Throughout we are taken to imagined meetings between Hall and his son who is being brought up by Hall's estranged wife.
Those meetings help to humanise Hall, who in the past, depending on the source, has been turned into either a wronged farmer driven to a life of crime, or demonised as a ruthless callous thug.
The former view attributes his waywardness to persecution by local law enforcers (the traps), who through wrongful imprisonment and by burning down his home, contributed to the breakdown of his marriage, the loss of relationship with his son, and drove him to crime as a way to survive and fight back against the injustices done to him.
The latter sees him as a willing participant in an audacious robbery that still rates as one of the most profitable crimes in Australia's history; after which he was briefly jailed, but soon released without charge. His wife DID leave him. His home WAS burned down. But that was after he'd already chosen the criminal path that saw him join forces with a progression of accomplices to conduct robberies, take over towns and eventually led to murder (though Hall himself reportedly killed no none).
This book starts in the last year of the Hall gang's short but prolific crime spree, when a coach robbery goes wrong and one of the police guards (Edmund Parry) is killed. Therefore some of the major and quite spectacular incidents of Hall's career don't get a mention in Shearston's novel.
But it isn't intended to be a catalogue of increasingly audacious exploits that could glorify the man and his accomplices. Game presents a sad image of a man longing for change: leaving his life of crime, winning the love of his son and regaining a life free of pursuit.
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 30th July 2013
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 20.8 x 15.3 x 2.8
Weight (kg): 0.39
Edition Number: 1