The Sunken Road

The Sunken Road

by Garry Disher
published 1996
genre Literary Fiction

The Sunken Road is many roads, taking different paths through the terrain of a life, a family, a history and a region. It is a road called Loss, a road called Secrets, a road called Love—and a road called Sunken. Lyrical, expansive and profoundly moving, this is a novel like no other.

The town of Pandowie in the mid-north of South Australia has been shaped for generations by two families, the Isons and the Showalters. At their conjunction lies a tragedy that cannot be glimpsed directly but sits at the centre of Anna Tolley’s long life, pulling at her past and future. Anna’s story and all her secrets are exposed through a series of prisms, drawing themes and connections from her life and her surroundings, each revealing a different facet and combining into a tender and devastating whole.

Garry Disher explains:

‘The Sunken Road is my most ambitious novel, and one I’m proudest of. It’s structured as many fragments, each one telling the life story, but from a different angle each time (the titles include School, Water, Dogs, Dirt), of the main female character, and is set in the small-farm, small-town region of South Australia where I grew up. Details accumulate through this repetition, and secrets rise to the surface. In this sense, it’s ultimately linear in structure, but I was trying, in the telling, to suggest that real life and memories do not run in a straight line but are subject to chance, luck and meanderings.

The Sunken Road was shortlisted for the NBC Banjo Award for Fiction and nominated for the Booker Prize.

‘Consummate artistry... The reader watches the big picture grow, detail by patient detail, as the colours of theme and incident cross and recross, building up into perfected landscapes, purged passions and a comprehensive chronicle of time, place and personality.’ – The Advertiser (Adelaide)

‘Complex, intricate... one of the most original, vibrant, compelling Australian novels.’ – The Sydney Morning Herald

‘The effect is like a deepening acquaintance with someone as you discover, over many conversations, a hinterland of unguessed experience.’ – The Daily Telegraph (UK)

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