Sorry opens with 10-year-old Perdita Keene witnessing her father's brutal death. Perdita's parents (Stella and Nicholas) moved from England to the Australian outback as newlyweds; Nicholas was stationed there as an anthropologist, studying native Aboriginal people. They lived on a remote ranch belonging to the Trevor family. Nicholas was remote and unfeeling; Stella was mentally unstable. Perdita's education was provided by Stella, and centered almost exclusively on the works of Shakespeare. Perdita's only friends were the Trevor's deaf-mute son, Billy, and a teenage Aboriginal housekeeper named Mary. After the tragedy, Mary confessed to murder and was sent away to a reform school in Perth. Nicholas' murder was never discussed. Perdita repressed all memories, developed a stutter, and lost herself in books:
Because we were stranded together and because I stuttered, we read. there is no refuge so private, no asylum more sane. There is no facility of voices captured elsewhere so entire and so marvellous. My tongue was lumpish and fixed, but in reading, silent reading, there was a release, a flight, a wheeling off into the blue spaces of exclamatory experience, diffuse and improbable, gloriously homeless. All that was solid melted into air, all that was air reshaped, and gained plausibility. (p. 43)
In the years that followed, Stella was in and out of hospital for psychiatric treatment. The Trevors cared for Perdita, until events of World War II forced evacuation to Perth and the families separated. Stella and Perdita were forced to live on their own for the first time, and Perdita found herself an outcast in the local school. Slowly, and with the help of kind souls who shall go nameless so as to avoid spoilers, Perdita begins the process of piecing together her past and rebuilding her life.
The story itself is a compellingly good read. And it operates on a deeper level as well. In an author's note, Jones writes, "The word 'sorry' has dense and complicated meanings in Australia.' " She describes the historical context of Sorry Day and the Stolen Generation
, in which indigenous Aboriginal children were removed from their families. Jones touched on issues of prejudice, separation and assimilation, and when she addressed the need for apology this novel suddenly struck me as hugely allegorical. This book combines rich characterizations with deep emotional impact -- always a winning combination for me. This is a beautiful, moving book. ( )