Why We Love It:
After reading The World Without Us you could turn the book over and start again. It’s one of those novels that stays with you long after reading. Poignant and sad, yet poetic and uplifting, it’s truly a novel of its time.
A North Coast hinterland community is in crisis after a commune mysteriously burns down. Bees are dying; the air and water is polluted, and the soil is degraded from overuse and mining. The Müller family is in turmoil too – mother Evangeline is acting strangely after losing her beloved youngest child, Pip. Her beekeeper husband Stefan is losing his colonies to unknown malaises, and adolescent daughters Tess and Meg grieve for their sister, but also for their mother who disappears each day to who knows where.
Other fascinating characters are the Sydney schoolteacher who dresses in his deceased mother’s clothes as a way of dealing with her death, the drunken hippie Nora and doomsayer survivalist Tom. They’re a cast of characters we come to know and love by the novel’s close, drawn with honesty but also subtle humour.
At the heart of the novel is a mystery that’s not solved until the final pages. What happens in the bee community is a subtle reflection of the Müller family and the whole community – one thing goes awry and everything is affected. The World Without Us touches on infidelity, love, loss and grief but also healing, hope and what it means to be human in the contemporary world.
The World Without Us could be described as ‘climate change fiction’ in the mould of Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour. But, as with that novel, it’s the characters that drive the narrative, not any simplistic political message, as seen when even beekeeper and organic farmer Stefan is tempted by the lure of money for mining rights to his property.
Juchau’s previous novels, Burning In and Machines For Feelings, were shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. We can’t help but feel that The World Without Us will go beyond the shortlists.