Dark and violent, The Untold lays bare the brutality of a woman's life in 1920s Australia, though in a very quiet way. The prose is meditative, understated; the most shocking of events unfold with an air of inevitability. I can see why Collins has been compared to Cormac McCarthy—if I'm being honest, that blurb was the main reason I picked up her book.
(Have I mentioned here before that Cormac McCarthy is my jam? I have owned a copy of Blood Meridian for at least five years, and I can't bring myself to read it because after I do I'll never be able to experience it for the first time again. And there are only so many McCarthy books to go around, you know? If I blow through his entire backlist before 30, then what do I do with the rest of my life?)
While I don't think Collins approaches McCarthy's stylistic mastery, the feel of The Untold was similar to his work. A gritty but haunted woman on the run from the law, forced to survive in unforgiving country armed with only her horse, her wits, and a gun? It sounds like something C-Mac could have written.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Collins's main character Jessie is based on an historical figure, a woman of many aliases rumored to live wild in mountain caves. The novel's Jessie, a horse rustler and onetime prison inmate, has just given birth to a child, two months too soon for it to survive in her harsh world. So she hastily buries it, along with the secret of its fatherhood, and lights out for the mountains on horseback. She knows she will be pursued, because she leaves in her wake the corpse of her husband, bludgeoned with the blunt side of an ax and shoved into the cellar.
Following Jessie's trail are two desperate men: one her lover, terrified of what may have happened to Jessie and her baby, and the other a lawman, battling personal demons and hunting her for reasons beyond simple justice. The novel may be set in Australia, but the storytelling is reminiscent of American Westerns—good and evil fighting it out against a stark landscape—with the notable exception that in Collins's tale, there is no clear divide between the two.