maralingaA British airbase in the middle of nowhere; an atomic weapons testing ground; an army of raw youth led by powerful, ambitious men – a cocktail for disaster. Such is Maralinga in the spring of 1956.

 This is a story of British Lieutenant Daniel Gardiner, who accepts the twelve-month posting to the wilds of South Australia on a promise of rapid promotion; Harold Dartleigh, Deputy Director of M16 and his undercover operative Gideon Melbray; Australian Army colonel Nick Stratton and the enigmatic Petraeus Mitchell, bushman and anthropologist. They all find themselves in a violent and unforgiving landscape, infected with the unique madness and excitement that only nuclear testing creates.

This Australian novel brought measured praise from our group. Everyone agreed that the enjoyment level of the read was high enough to be considered worthwhile, but factually it fell short for a few of us. The character of Elizabeth and her family in particular stretched the believable boundary for some, and although we felt Nunn’s research to be laudable, we all would have liked more of a precise history written into the story. But then Nunn is a fiction writer and a few members stressed that this was about ‘storytelling’ and not an historical document.

 There were plenty of unanswered questions left open for discussion, which gives inquiring minds such as ours something to examine and analysis. By the end of it all, there were some who were keen to read on about Maralinga and learn more about the apparent cover-up and effects of nuclear testing in Australia.

 By the end of our meeting it was clear that, when a novel can stimulate the mind to such a degree, it is always worth the read and reinforces the value of fiction and book clubs!maralinga

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