Ellie Marney’s new novel takes the grass-roots feeling of a tight-knit country town, and throws in an explosive mixture of cult ideologies, peer pressure and moral dilemmas. Set in a small town in rural Victoria, White Night tells the story of a status quo shaken by one secretive community, and a boy and a girl who challenge the beliefs of both worlds.
The novel is quintessentially Australian: from the familiar tone of the dialogue to the vividly described settings, Marney expertly crafts a rich world for her characters so that their story takes on a life outside of the book. The way that the natural oasis of Eden is described transports the reader into the scene, delighting all of the senses.
While the story’s main thread revolves around the clashing of mainstream society and an environmental cult, minor plotlines are abundant. When not learning about the obscure community of Eden, the protagonist Bo is dealing with family secrets, doubt about his future, drama with his friends, and the organising of a fateful fundraiser. It can be easy to get lost in these subplots and forget that there’s a focal point to this story.
What begins as a feel-good rural story takes a turn darker than one would expect. No one chooses to write about polarising subject matter like cults and off-the-grid societies without having some kind of strong opinion, but while White Night attempts to show both sides of Eden in the beginning, Marney’s views come across too strongly and suddenly.
Whether communities like Eden are “good” or “bad” is kept purposefully vague for a long time, so long that it seems like Marney is letting the readers make up their own minds. But then the tone of the story takes a sharp twist, as if Marney is afraid her stance isn’t coming across. White Night wouldn’t be a story without Marney pushing Eden one way or the other, but it just needed more time to make the twist believable.
Full of ethical dilemmas and the power of community, White Night is a treasure trove of secrets and much more than it appears.