Published by Text, 2017. This is I think the first book Eva Hornung has published since her masterpiece, Dog Boy, won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction in 2010. I reviewed it here: https://memoryandyou.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/eva-hornungs-dog-boy-challenges-what-it-means-to-be-human/
The Last Garden has some similarities in theme, in that it imagines a boy crossing the border between human and animal, becoming animal for a time, and experiencing the world from a double, human-animal perspective. Benedict Orion, the hero, aged fifteen, returns home from boarding school to find that a terrible crime has shattered his childhood paradise, the farm outside the Wahrheit settlement. His father has shot his mother through the heart, and then himself.
The crime is not explained, and the year in Benedict’s life that the book covers is in part about his quest to understand it. Yet he goes about this by escaping to the barn, where he lives with the horses and the chickens and a cat, and avoids human contact, except for the irregular visits of Pastor Helfgott, who believes, for a time, that Benedict may be the Saviour that the religious community is awaiting. At the same time, he protects Benedict from being ‘civilised’ by the members of the community and allows him time to heal, to live half wild, bringing him offerings of food and reminding him to eat and pray. Benedict, who responds to the shock that has shattered his life by not speaking for a long time, is haunted not only by his father’s crime but by a fox that flickers on the edge of his vision, and brings murder and death back into his world, wounding and killing his beloved hens and roosters. The fox enters his consciousness and becomes God, taunting and enslaving him.
I have not forsaken you, said the fox, one night. I am with you always.
He has encounters, perhaps dreamed, perhaps real, with black people, and they heal him of self-inflicted wounds.The fox reminds him that he needs only him and this is his farm.
Finally, he confronts the fox and kills it. The voice of God is gone, yet there is a profound mistake. He has killed a vixen, mother of suckling cubs. This takes him back to his own family and his father’s crime, and he reviews his life. He begins to understand how his father had made such a terrible mistake.
Maybe if Matthias had counted to ten, as Ada always told him he should, if Matthias had seen himself in the eyes of a dead fox, a horse, or for that matter a koala—any god would do— if he had let the wave of whatever pain, guilt or madness pass…
There are other strands to this story, and other voices, mainly that of Pastor Helfgott. I found this strand less convincing.
I prefer the two-dimensional world of Dog Boy, where the boy’s consciousness is the main voice.
I have to say that this is not an easy book to read. It is enigmatic and much is unspoken. I read it once and immediately began to read it again. I recall I did the same thing with Dog Boy. But I can say that this book haunted me and still does, though not as much as Dog Boy did.