Bookshelf spotlight: The Tally Stick

The Tally Stick, by Carl Nixon

I read The Tally Stick by Carl Nixon in 2020, and it was my top read of the year. It’s another book that I picked up because it was by a NZ author, but the blurb sounded very interesting.

A family of 6 is driving up the deserted west coast of New Zealand’s South Island when their car goes off the road during a heavy rainfall. By the time anyone starts looking for them, the weather has obscured any trace of where they left the road. No one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, the remains of the oldest boy is found many kilometres away, together with a stick that has marks notched into it. What’s more, due to the age he was when he died, it is now known that he lived for several years after their disappearance. But what happened to his siblings and parents?

This book follows two paths. In the first we have the boy’s aunt, in the UK, who had lost so much of her life (including her marriage) being obsessed over finding her missing family. For her own sanity, she did have to eventually give up the search and admit to herself that they were all dead. This latest find rekindles her quest for the truth and she again travels to New Zealand to see if she can find any trace of the remaining family members. In the other, we find out exactly what happens to each of the family members after the accident.

The story is cruel. I felt that deeply. But I raced through the pages wanting to find out more. I remember finishing this near the beginning of a flight from Rotorua to Wellington, and instead of picking up and starting my other book, I sat there contemplating what I had read. I was moved, horrified, saddened. At moments I felt great disbelief and anger at how characters had been cheated of so much more. And through it all, it felt real. I could actually see this taking place. I’m not yet sure if that says more about me or people at large.

I would highly recommend reading this book. Though beware, a friend threw it across the room in anger when she finished it.

Despite my high regard of this book, it is one that I have recently decided to part with. I’m glad I read it, and any book that has me thinking about it as long afterwards as I did this one is to be appreciated, but I just don’t think I have it in me to read it again.


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