Updated: Aug 16, 2019
Full of suspense, Harmless is the tightly woven story of eight year old Amanda, whose father is in prison, and Rattuwat, a Thai man burying his daughter in a strange land.
Abandoning their broken-down car on the way to the prison’s visiting hour, Amanda and Rattuwat venture into the trackless scrub of Australia’s outer suburbs. As the day heats up, the sense of menace intensifies and each of them enters the no-man’s-land between safety and peril.
They both listened to the automated announcement that preceded every phone conversation from prison.
'Dave. It's you.'
A brittle silence.
'Why did you call?'
'The kids tell me you're sick.'
'Nothing you can do.'
'You need proper medical care.'
'I don't want it.'
His chest ached. His eyes began to sting. 'Sua, I'm sorry... I just didn't... I couldn't...' She hung up before he could finish, before he could even start.
He phoned back. He phoned back. He phoned back, but there was never any answer.
Review and endorsements
"The whole canvas of Australian life – its ethnic diversity, its violence, its growing divisions of class and economic status, its convoluted history of linkage with South East Asia – is made vivid in this remarkable novella."
–Janette Turner Hospital
"Can a book have a soul? This one does."
–The West Australian
"The book caused me terrible distress. Yet I was compelled to read it over and over... as if by dint of exposure, the book would lose its power over me. Since then I’ve encountered half a dozen books I think of as ‘echidna books’; the ones that cleave me with sorrow and impotent rage but that I can’t turn away from. Books like Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Ian McKewan’s Atonement, Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil and now Julienne van Loon's Harmless. It is remarkable that so much thematic weight is compacted in so slight a volume."
–SA Jones for Kill Your Darlings
"A drunken woman stumbles into a party where people are gathered around a bonfire, determined to give the baby girl under her jacket to its father. When he refuses, she seizes the baby by the foot and throws it into the air above the fire. The child is Amanda and this is her start to a life that will be informed by criminals, harmed people – the crushed, flawed, abused. The image of Amanda as a baby – underweight, ‘wide-eyed’, suspended over the fire – effloresces and settles through this novella by Julienne van Loon."
–Australian Book Review
"… this absorbing tale about a resilient child living on the margins contains evocative writing and raw emotional insights. Verdict: poignant."
"The action of Julienne van Loon's novella Harmless is compressed into the late morning and afternoon of a single day. Compression is one of the novella's hallmarks, and van Loon uses it to good effect. A few pages in and tension clamps the hearts of the protagonists; a few more pages and the reader is struck by an impending sense of doom...with the publication of Harmless, Fremantle Press is continuing to bring the work of enormously talented West Australians to the fore."
– Dorothy Johnson for The Sydney Morning Herald
‘This novella is only 137 pages long and takes only an hour or two to read. But the picture that emerges of the dregs of Australian society is piercing. Van Loon’s prose is taut and compelling, and shows the author in full command of her powers."
–ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
"Each revelation builds on the last, constantly changing your perception of the protagonists right to the end. A fast, immensely satisfying read."
"I found this a unique and powerful narrative which had me invested very early on.’ Colosoul
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