Little Gods

By Jenny Ackland Allen & Unwin

As a child, trapped in the savage act of growing up, Olive had sensed she was at the middle of something, so close to the nucleus she could almost touch it with her tongue. But like looking at her own nose for too long, everything became blurry and she had to pull away. She’d reached for happiness as a child not yet knowing that the memories she was concocting would become deceptive. That memories get you where they want you not the other way around. 

The setting is the Mallee, wide flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life.

She knows that adults aren’t very good at keeping secrets and makes it her mission to uncover as many as she can. When she learns that she once had a baby sister who died – a child unacknowledged by her close but challenging family – Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery and relentless quest to find out what happened have seismic repercussions for the rest of her family and their community. As everything starts to change, it is Olive herself who has the most to lose as the secrets she unearths multiply and take on complicated lives of their own.

Jenny Ackland

Jenny Ackland is a writer and teacher from Melbourne. She has worked in offices, sold textbooks in a university bookshop, taught English overseas and worked as a proofreader and freelance editor. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines and listed in prizes and awards. Her debut novel The Secret Son – a “Ned Kelly-Gallipoli mash-up” about truth and history – was published in 2015. Little Gods is her second novel.

Judges' report

Set in the 1980s in Mallee country in north-western Victoria, Jenny Ackland’s Little Gods is a ripping, sprawling family saga featuring an eccentric cast with an abundance of big secrets.

Precocious twelve-year-old Olive Lovelock is bound to become one of Australia’s great fictional protagonists, but this novel has a veritable array of radiant, strong characters. Olive’s aunt Thistle is a constant delight; she is an eccentric who produces plays for Olive and her cousins, and is sporadically blindsided by bouts of depression.

In a continuous series of memorable scenes, Ackland perfectly evokes a childhood both sublime and anguished, and the uncertainty of youth is exquisitely depicted throughout. The tale manages to be both dark and sweetly funny, and never stops being gently surprising. Ackland has much insight and empathy to impart about the way we live, and with Little Gods, her second novel, she has well and truly hit her stride.

Further reading


‘…don’t let this quiet novel catch you unprepared: Little Gods might just crush your heart’ Michelle McLaren, Newtown Review of Books

‘Jenny Ackland’s second novel, Little Gods, couldn’t be mistaken for anything but an Australian book.’ Hilary Simmons, Books+Publishing

‘There is charm in the passing details of an Australian childhood recalled and in Olive there is a winning lead character, whom Ackland has been careful not to make too cute: in fact she has pulled off the risky trick of having Olive’s less tolerable qualities add to her appeal.’
Owen Richardson, Sydney Morning Herald