There are two central characters in Curtin's debut novel, The Sinkings. The first is Little Jock, a convict found brutally murdered in 1882. Then there is Willa, an out of work editor who is attempting to come to terms with the disintegration of her own family. She becomes obsessed with the story of Little Jock when she learns that his deceased body was at first identified by a medical expert as that of a woman. Little Jock is intersexed (a hermaphrodite), and by exploring his life, Willa attempts to come to terms with the guilt she feels about her own intersexed child.
The chapters in The Sinkings alternate between the story of Little Jock and Willa so that the reader has an insight into both their lives.
Through the character of Willa, Curtin explores the reality of dealing with the birth and raising an intersexed child. Willa has had to make some difficult decisions and is being suffocated by guilt and self-doubt as her family falls apart under the pressure of dealing with such a difficult situation. Researching Little Jock's life becomes a took through which Willa can begin to come to terms with the decisions she has had to make on behalf of her daughter, decisions that her daughter has ultimately come to resent.
It was the story of Little Jock, however, that really grabbed my attention and was the highlight of the book. I was fascinated with his journey, which began as a little girl in Ireland to his being adopted as young boy by an English family. Living in poverty leads him to life of crime which ultimately sees him transported to Australia as a convict. The story then follows his struggles as he tries to hide his true identity and make a life for himself.
Curtin does so many things really well in The Sinkings. Her depiction of convict life was honest and she created a very interesting character in Little Jock. Her exploration of the realities for people born intersexed and their families was fascinating, and it was clear that life for those that are intersexed is no less difficult now as it was in the past, albeit perhaps in different ways.
The Sinkings was a good mix of history and contemporary life, although I do have to admit that I would have enjoyed the book just as much, if not more, if it had been solely about the life and death of Little Jock.
This was a wonderful debut Australian novel and one that I would recommend if you have the time.