Book Review: One Careless Night by Christina Booth

One Careless Night, Christina Booth, Walker Books Australia, 2019

From the publisher: Where the mist swallows mountains and winds whisper through ancient trees, a mother and her pup run wild and free. They hunt, but they are also hunted. Carted away. Sold for bounty. And then, one careless night … The last thylacine is gone. The beautiful but heartbreaking story of Australia’s last thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), which died in captivity.

Australia’s last thylacine died after the zookeeper neglected to put the animals in their shelters for the night. This is an important and timely book that deals with humanity’s lack of care for the environment and our betrayal of our native animals. This is also a tale of hope – that we have changed our thinking and no longer treat animals in this way.

Before I moved to Hobart, from my small hometown on Tasmania’s north-west coast, I read a book called The Butterfly Man. Its author – Heather Rose – has gone on to even more amazing things and is now internationally-known, but The Butterfly Man was my first experience of her lush, evocative writing. The plot of The Butterfly Man posited the theory that famed aristocratic murderer, Lord Lucan, had escaped from the site of his crime, and sailed across the world to a new incognito life in the bush near Hobart. Specifically, he lived in the dense forest on kunanyi – Hobart’s mountain.

This story sparked something in my soul and, when I moved to Hobart, I found myself staring for hours at the imposing mountain that guards this city, wondering …

What if …

What could those windswept stones and wind-bent trees be hiding?

What could be lurking up there, in the places where men don’t go?

Could it be men, exiled from their homelands because of some dastardly crime?

Could it be monsters; shapeshifters?

Could it be tigers?

In the shadows, on that enormous stone, could there be tigers, lurking?

I was not the only one, of course, imagining tigers. Many people, across this island, have stared at their own mountains and into the shadows of their own forests, wondering what if …

Was that a flash of stripes, darting through the forest?

Or just a trick of the moonlight …

One of those people was the incredible artist and wordsmith, Christina Booth. Christina’s preoccupation with thylacines stretches back many years. She is fascinated by them and those who believe in their continued existence. She has been trying, for years, to turn her passion into a story.

One Careless Night finally came out, this year, after many years of drafts and redrafts and many incarnations, and it was well worth the wait. Christina’s art is breath-taking – dark and silvery and mystical and poignant. She evokes the beauty of these tragic creatures, as well as their wildness and ferocity. Her words are even more affecting still. Christina is a passionate environmentalist, with a deep love of animals, and the intensity of her feeling for the thylacines is evident in every word; on every page.

I was lucky enough to read this book before its release. I made the mistake, however, of reading it between panels at a writers conference. Halfway through the book, I was sobbing, mascara drizzling down my face – not a great look at a fancy event. But I was still so grateful for the privilege of being exposed to this wonder of a story.

And since then, I have read this book many more times. Last night, I read it again to my daughter.

“Poor tiger,” she said, through her own tears. “They should have just let her be wild.”

That wicked man, Lord Lucan, probably didn’t escape England to live on kunanyi. But there’s no denying the darkness of his crime. I would argue that the crimes white men committed against the thylacine are far more reprehensible; more shameful. Once, I stared at the mountain, imagining a dark soul, living in the shadows. Or perhaps a monster. Perhaps a tiger.

Now, it is only tigers I imagine.

I dream I can see their silvery shapes – like those Christina Booth has brought to life in this book – darting through the trees.

I hope for them.

I wish them speed.

They should have just let them be wild.

Every day, we lose still more beautiful creatures forever. This is our crime and our shame.

I hope that many children will read this story. The terrible truth is that they can’t undo what their parents have done but books like this will hopefully inspire them to fight; to slow the devastation.

This is an important book, a beautiful book, and a book that I hope will make all of us look to our forests; our mountains, and wonder. And hope. And vow to fight.

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