The Critic Magazine

Learning from the past

Helen Dale’s latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, was shortlisted for the Prometheus Prize for scine friction

‘‘WASH THE CRAP out yer eyes” was a thing I heard a lot as a girl, from both parents, sometimes followed by “you can’t see for looking”. This was partly for reasons of survival and safety: I spent my childhood in country Queensland, home to some of the most dangerous creatures on Earth — saltwater crocodiles, taipans, box jellyfish, redback spiders, blue-ringed octopus, stonefish.

At least once a week there were stories in the local newspaper of a child “taken” or killed or terribly sickened. I had to be taught, on pain of death, that my country posed risks to life and limb. Often, however, the imperative was directed to something wholly benign: a butterfly, a distinctively marked lizard, a flowering tree, even the

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