Deborah O’Brien’s The Rarest Thing was one of our dozen Top Aussie Reads of 2016.
The Rarest Thing Synopsis:
A heartwarming new novel from the author of the bestselling Mr Chen’s Emporium
It’s 1966, and a mountain pygmy possum – a species that scientists considered to be long-extinct – is discovered in the Victorian High Country and transported to Melbourne where newspapers dub it ‘the world’s rarest creature’.
Thirty-year-old Dr Katharine Wynter is a palaeontologist who’s more comfortable with ancient bones than live human beings, particularly men – an exotic species of which she has little personal experience, apart from a predatory professor who has made her working life hell.
Having studied the tiny possum in fossil form, Katharine is curious to see it in the flesh, but her much-anticipated visit is disrupted by the presence of wildlife photographer, Scott King, taking pictures for an international magazine.
Before long, Katharine finds herself thrown together with Scott on a quest to locate the miniature marsupials in their habitat – the rugged Australian Alps. Along the way, the timid scientist discovers a side to her character she never knew existed, while the dashing photographer abandons his bravado and confronts memories he’s hidden for decades.
As for the elusive possums, the cute little creatures lead their pursuers on a merry chase…
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Do not for one minute read this novel’s subtitle ‘A High Country Love Story’ and write it off as your typical commercial rural romance. Deborah O’Brien plumbed great depths in her outwardly light-hearted novel The Trivia Man, and now has crafted something truly special in The Rarest Thing.
Yes, the love story is a beautiful one – but it is the firm grounding of a particular time and period in history, a tumultuous time for both the society and those characters’ positions within it, that makes it so compelling. It is a time of change, an awakening of sorts, but dark undercurrents from the past run strong and are never far from the surface.
O’Brien has a real talent for character development and powerful use of metaphor. The novel exudes such poignant connectivity from the Oscar Wilde quote that gave birth to the title
To live is the rarest thing in the world.
Most people exist, that is all.
to issues of species extinction and animals in captivity, the unbridled power of mother nature and precariousness of life, gender roles in society and Australia’s position in the international landscape.
All of O’Brien’s characters feel real, but particularly so her leads Katharine and Scott — credibility and context from skilfully revealed backstories balanced with an endearing fighting spirit, conviction and curiosity — that we cannot help but engage emotionally. Pop culture references along with descriptions of clothing/locations and use of phrases of that era add colour and charm to the tale, and hand-drawn pictures a real sense of intimacy.
If that I read The Rarest Thing in a single day is not sufficient endorsement, I highly recommend you give yourself the opportunity to be moved and uplifted by this story of living rather than simply existing.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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Genre: Romance, Historical, Mystery, Drama
About the Author, Deborah O’Brien
Other reviews of The Rarest Thing
* My receiving a copy of The Rarest Thing from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.