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Posted on 4 Apr 2024 in Crime Scene, Fiction |

DONNA M CAMERON The Rewilding. Reviewed by Ann Skea

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Donna M Cameron’s second novel is both a fast-paced tale of a whistleblower on the run, and a paean to the beauty of the natural world.

The instant he ruins his life a vision of his mother explodes in his head. He can’t see her face, yet he knows she is smiling.

The day Jagger blows the whistle on the Greengate Waste Removal scam his father’s business is running, he is already in shock after overhearing his fiancée, Lola, telling a friend how her mum had researched ‘the sons of the Fin Review Rich List’, and how she, Lola, had engineered the ‘accidental meeting’ which Jagger had always believed to be a romantic coincidence. He is deeply in love with Lola, and she has handled their finances, too, because she convinced him of her ‘prowess with money’. He now finds they are in ‘a quagmire of debt’.

Devastated, and furious at Lola’s deceptions, and having seen a homeless woman and a small child in a nearby park, he empties the over-stuffed linen cupboard of all the expensive, unused bedding Lola has bought, and drives around Sydney giving it to homeless people. Then he goes in to work early, so that he will not have to go home.

Alone in the office, prompted by graffiti about a scam on the building’s wall, he finds an incriminating email exchange between his father and Ed, his father’s assistant, on Ed’s computer and realises that he has been made a scapegoat. At Lola’s insistence, Jagger had started working for his father and had, over the past two years, signed multiple documents that he did not read and which he now believes were related to the scam. ‘Your dad needs you to sign these,’ Ed would say, while engaging him in conversation: ‘just a standard money transfer’; ‘the usual jargon to cover our arses’.

In shock, Jagger sends copies of these emails to every media outlet on the firm’s mailing list for press releases.

He knows that not only will the police now be looking for him because of his involvement in this scam, but, more terrifyingly, he once heard his father discussing the bloody death of a whistleblower with Ed, and agreeing that there was ‘only one way to deal with a whistleblower’. He knows, too, that Ed has connections with the thugs who carried out this murder.

In panic, Jagger drives his ‘beloved Porsche’ to the city’s used-car yards and sells it for cash, then heads to the apartment of Will, who has been his closest friend since childhood. Will is overseas, so Jagger borrows Will’s bike and cycling gear, his camping equipment and survival pack, and leaves his own driving licence, credit cards, $3000 in cash, and a brief explanatory note ending ‘DON’T TELL ANYONE ANYTHING’. He then heads for the national park outside Sydney and a cave he and his mother once found hidden in thick undergrowth on a slope overlooking the sea.

Jagger remembers it so clearly, the Boxing Day afternoon when they stumbled across the cave. How safely cocooned they were by the thick sandstone when the hailstorm rolled in from the west …

When the storm curved out to sea, the sun returned to fill the space with prisms of colour. They sat in the glistening stillness as shadows swelled, bewitching his mum until she was sharing for the first time the story her Swedish mormor had told her when she was a little girl: the tale of a mythical cave-dwelling being who lures humans to their death …

If you see her from behind, she’s actually hollow – or sometimes she has bark in her back, and often she has a tail.

All this happens breathtakingly in the first 30 pages of the book, and the drama and excitement, chases and unexpected twists and turns, continue grippingly until the end. Woven into this are passages of beauty linked to the land through which Jagger is chased by Ed’s gun-carrying thugs; to the animals and plants that he knows and loves; and to deeper issues, like climate change, mining, radical protests, and illegal immigrants, which arise through the people he meets along the way. It is a lot to handle, but Donna Cameron manages it superbly.

Jagger’s most significant encounter is with a young woman he first sees as the huldra, the mythical skogrå his mother had told him about:

She glides forward, a Medusa with brown snakes cascading from her head, watching him with her dark, dark eyes…

She hitches up her dress and runs, sparks of sand at her feet, the flash of a tail at her back as she disappears with his life savings, his future, his freedom, into the scrub.

Luckily, Nia is no thief and when Jagger’s ‘adult self steps forward, craving logic’, he recognises her as ‘Nothing but a white trash, loony feral.’

They confront each other. Both, for different reasons, are keen to remain hidden and both want to stay in the cave, so a fragile truce is agreed. Jagger has money but no food; the ‘feral’ (as he calls her) has no money but she has a phone, access to the internet, and she is able to go the nearby beach kiosk to buy food, although to Jagger’s dismay it has to be ‘ethically sourced’ and is usually a lentil burger.

A series of notes written by Nia to an unknown recipient is scattered through the book. The first begins:

Can you believe it? There was a capitalist suit from the corporate brigade in our cave. The fascist had stepped straight from the office with the shoes, the tie, the works – only thing missing was the bloody briefcase.

For a few days they hide, avoiding park rangers with drones, Ed, and Ed’s henchman Vincent O’Donoghue, who in one too-close encounter sticks a gun in Jagger’s back. Vincent also uses a searching drone. Nia finds Jagger new, ill-assorted clothes in the kiosk’s dump bin, and they move caves, but Nia is waiting for something. Jagger, seeing her watching the sea through binoculars and later talking to someone on the phone about landing conditions, thinks, ‘Drugs, by the look of her.’ When she tells him she is collecting data on whales, he concludes, ‘If she’s counting whales, then I’m the tooth fairy.’

The truth is more complicated. They leave the cave and Jagger, discovering that Nia has a car, begs a lift to Queensland, thinking he might be able to change his name, get a boat to somewhere else, and hide from Vincent and his equally dangerous son, Ivan, who are closely pursuing them.

Vincent and Ivan seem able to keep track of Nia’s car, whatever avoidance strategies they try. At times the chase gets very close to a final confrontation. Jagger and Nia also live through the after-effects of a cyclone and experience the devastation of the Gold Coast tourist-haven, which they need to traverse. Nia’s daring installation of an Earth Rebellion protest banner on a damaged building, and a brief stay on a cashless, ecologically-sound Earth Rebellion farm that survives on a barter system with the locals, make for a brief respite, but in the end Jagger and Nia not only face Vincent and Ivan but, alongside some of Nia’s most radical Earth Rebellion associates (the Lorax group), have a terrifying confrontation with thugs employed by a mining company.

The tension is almost constant, but there are moments of relief and humour in the verbal sparring between Jagger and Nia – for example, when Jagger eats an omelette laced with some psychedelic mushrooms two of the young farm boys have found. Jagger becomes ‘a Tolkien Ent, guardian of the surrounding hills’ and watches a skink eating a ladybird:

One snap of the skink’s tongue and the bug is gulped down. The yellow-mouthed insect-crunch fills the whole valley as the lizard slides into the long grass, then a butterfly alights on a purple flowering weed, an opus of coloured wings: iridescent blue, green, yellow, black and red, There’s an indescribable bounce of the fragile stem when it flies off, trailing colours behind it.

Jagger and Nia are complex, very different, but likeable characters and The Rewilding is a fast-paced and gripping thriller. Yet even at the most tense moments there is time to notice nature, and time to argue about whether the earth is doomed or can be saved by human ingenuity.

In The Rewilding, Donna Cameron skilfully creates an exciting story which keeps the reader on edge while also quietly suggesting the beauty and fragility of nature, our place in it, and our need to remain aware of that.

Donna M. Cameron The Rewilding Transit Lounge 2023 PB 320pp $32.99

Dr Ann Skea is a freelance reviewer, writer and an independent scholar of the work of Ted Hughes. She is author of Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest (UNE 1994, and currently available for free download here). Her work is internationally published and her Ted Hughes webpages ( are archived by the British Library.

You can buy The Rewilding from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

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