“Her face was puffy and pale and fuzzed-over. She just came in and said: “Ashmol, Pobby and Dingan are maybe-dead.” That’s how she said it.”.
Rice’s” first novella is an enormously touching exploration of innocence lost and regained. Pobby and Dingan are the title of the book and the names of the main characters as well. They are imaginary creatures, created by the magically imaginative or emotionally troubled young girl, who began to stir up a large amount of trouble in the small outback where their creator and her family make their home. The story is narrated by Ashmol Williamson the brother of the young girl Kellyanne. His down-to-earth, quirky narration adds an extremely believable quality to the novella. He is very often funny and his observations about the town and its inhabitants are near perfect.
Set in contemporary Australia it is a timeless sort of tale form the outback. The family live in the small mining town of Lightning Ridge. Rex Williamson, a well-meaning drunk in search of fortune relocates his family there in order to mine for opals. Kellyanne’s belief in her imaginary friends parallels the Williamsons’ dire faith in finding the yet-unseen opals. On one side lies the agoraphobia of the Australian outback, on the other, the claustrophobia and parochialism of small town communities. Ashmol describes the town as “full of crackpots” and the use of the word “lightning” suggests something quite striking and unique. .
“Everybody knew every body in Lightning Ridge. And some people even knew nobody as well it seemed,” the small town depravities and gossiping that go on are a major point in the book, but clearly Ashmol does not see these as anything other than original elements of the place itself At the back of all this are still greater realms of emptiness, which Rice deftly implies and more levels of non-existence such as when Pobby and Dingan go missing and a search party and a fictitious reward are created.