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Shadowing the Sun

by Lily Dunn

Dunn's first novel is clearly autobiographical, and draws upon her own childhood experience of a commune
in Italy. It is about a young girl,Sylvie, whose beauty and promise attracts the interest of the grown-ups, both men and women. Women appreciate her intelligence and understand the difficulties that her flowering sex appeal will bring, too soon, into her life. Her brother loves her dearly, but is involuntarily privy to her dilemma. The men in the commune come to nascent life. Her egocentric father, in search of fame and riches through his book (ironically titled Alpha Child) presents her to the photographer who he imagines will ultimately sell his book worldwide. At once flattered and frightened, she is in awe of what she perceives as her power over men: it sets her apart from her more ordinary friends, who continue to love her. Lacking experience, she lacks judgment, and puts her trust in her traitors.

Lily Dunn writes with such élan, and her novel is so well written, that the reader is not quite aware that the theme of the book is vicious child abuse. The damage done to the beautiful child emerges when she is twenty something and is trying to establish her relationship with a devoted and long term partner. Because the story is partly autobiographical it is told almost humourously, as though the author is addressing a friend, whose sympathy is unwelcome: it is almost as though she is talking about somebody else. The account of the children taking drugs is laconic. The story is almost too painful to tell. But we are duly entertained: we get our money’s worth, and more.

Dunn's gift is apparent in her competence. The characterization, narrative depiction of events, and the nice exchange of mood between her protagonists are evidence of considerable talent and professionalism. Dunn is thoughtful, perceptive and discriminating and a born and bred-in-the-bone storyteller.


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