Jaxie dreads going home. His mum's dead. The old man bashes him without mercy, and he wishes he was an orphan. But no one's ever told Jaxie Clackton to be careful what he wishes for.
In one terrible moment his life is stripped to little more than what he can carry and how he can keep himself alive. There's just one person left in the world who understands him and what he still dares to hope for. But to reach her he'll have to cross the vast saltlands on a trek that only a dreamer or a fugitive would attempt.
The Shepherd's Hut is a searing look at what it takes to keep love and hope alive in a parched and brutal world.
Meeting Jaxie Clackton for the first time is a bit like one's first meeting with Huck Finn. His voice grates for the first few pages of broad, under-educated Aussie argot. Initially I didn't think I could go on this trip with him. But quickly enough, I settled into his rough, wise, observant rhythm.
Jaxie is an apprentice butcher raised by a loving but weak mother and a violent, drunken step-father who beats him mercilessly. Jaxie's words show a loving, clever, decent boy who has developed a carapace to protect his soft soul. Now his mother is gone and an accident gives him the opportunity to “light out for the territory”.
He heads off on a quest to find his great love who has been sent away to the north. He arms himself, stays off the roads, avoids farms and spends some time in old miner's huts and then, near a salt lake, he finds a shepherd's hut occupied by an old man.
These days in the hut end up educating Jaxie and the “shepherd” in how to trust and how to survive and mostly how to share. To share things, food, shelter and story.
Eventually the outside world, of course, arrives to spoil this simple, tough idyll, with vicious and bloody consequences.
The Shepherd's Hut is Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield blended into Greek drama and Norse myth, set in the searing heat and drought of Western Australia. It is a tough story that I hope will be read by more young men than usual. I hope it will stand the test of time like Cloudstreet. - David (QBD)