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November 16, 2017


The Hands

by N@ncy


What do we know about Stephen Orr?

  1. Stephen Orr studied ecology at university before starting to write fiction.
  2. He has taught Biology, Agriculture, and English.
  3. His most recent novel, The Hands (2015),
  4. describes a farming family trying to scratch a living from
  5. drought affected grazing country.
  6. Orr is a skilled analyst of small towns…vanishing part of Australian life.



  1. Setting: Australian cattle station
  2. 7 characters – 3 generations
  3. Structure: 3 parts
  4. Timeline: 3 years
  5. Grandfather: Murray, holder of the deed…no intention of selling his property
  6. Father: Trevor Wilkie, working cattle station… future he no longer believes in.
  7. Sons: Harry and Aiden, struggling to  deal with their father.


Central question:

  1. Can these characters  arise from  a bad situation
  2. …to find the silver lining in the cloud that is  death, drought, debt ?



  1. The first thing I noticed on the cover is ‘An Australian Pastoral’.
  2. I don’t know what a ‘pastoral’ really means in literature.
  3. In this book a pastoral is simply and escape…place of retreat.
  4. Physical retreat (bush)  for a simple way of life.
  5. Emotional retreat with 3 generations of men who have difficulty
  6. …communicating  their feelings.
  7. Retreat: a place where on can explore the past (Murray the grandfather)
  8. …an imagine an alternative future (Trevor and his sons)



  1. This is a redemptive story of men  whose failures,
  2. accidental or intended, seem insurmountable
  3. ….but are resolved.
  4. Grandfather,  son and grandsons  grieve for the
  5. the loss of  life (a grandfather, wife, mother)
  6. the loss of the rural working life
  7. the loss of the land.
  8. …and the difficulties of putting a self back together.



  1. This was a good book…but not great.
  2. It did not sweep me off my feet.
  3. Perhaps other readers have a  different reaction to this book.
  4. It was shortlisted for Miles Franklin 2016
  5. …so Stephen Orr must be doing something right!




Read more from #AusReadingMonth, fiction
3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 18 2017

    I have yet to read any Orr, but I do know that Lisa @ANZLitLovers really likes his stuff.


    • Nov 19 2017

      I think Stephen Orr is an acquired taste….like olives.
      He does not have a strong ‘writing’ backround, journalistic as does Jane Harper.
      Orr probably is a science man, loves the rural land and has learned to use fiction to
      express himself. If I compare Harper’s rural town in The Dry and this cattle station in The Hands….I know that Harper has a keener eye for description. She has a talent….that Orr is working hard to achieve.

      Liked by 1 person


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