Set in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance, Carpentaria is the unforgettable portrait of the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight's renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other.
By turns operatic and surreal, Wright's stunning and richly imagined storytelling is a blend of myth and scripture, farce and politics. Her extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, the rulers of the family, the queen of the rubbish-dump and the fish-embalming king of time, Angel Day and Normal Phantom - stride like giants in this storm-swept world.
This 2007 Miles Franklin award winning novel is the latest masterpiece from Wright, an indigenous Australian author and land rights activist. In the town of Desperance, in northern Queensland, Australia, the question of land ownership is complicated, and every family stakes a claim. There's Normal Phantom's family, Mozzie Fishman's gang and the white settlers who control the region, but can't quite figure out how to get the native Pricklebush people to assimilate to the white man's ways. The drama unfolds with all the poetry and eclecticism of a Bob Dylan song: a drunken white mayor dismisses a murder case, a lying deaf policeman named Truthful has his way with Aboriginal women, and a brave young activist sabotages the town's mining industry. When the mythical Elias Smith, who appears in Desperance one day after "walking out of the sea," is found murdered, a series of tragedies follows, awakening latent feuds and underlining the injustice of colonialism. Rarely does an author have such control of her words and her story: Wright's prose soars between the mythical and the colloquial.