Released in 2016, Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, evoked a sense of sundried desperation and El Niño-inspired unease that felt as familiar to many Australian readers as the book’s genre trappings (its tagline, “a desperate act in a small town with secrets”, could apply to anything from Twin Peaks to Top of the Lake).
The book hadn’t even hit shelves when producer Bruna Papandrea and screenwriter-director Robert Connolly started planning the film. Papandrea is perhaps best known today for adapting Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies for HBO, which swapped Sydney’s northern beaches for affluent, coastal California – but there was no separating The Dry from its western Victorian backdrop.
“It just lends itself to mystery and suspense so well because you do have that undercurrent of danger in a lot of locations,” Harper says.
Whether set in state forests, coastal communities or great, thirsty expanses of agricultural land, her four novels to date pick up on the duelling sensibilities of romanticism and dread that have recurred in Australian storytelling since colonisation. “It’s quite easy for things to go wrong quite quickly, which is a real gift for a writer.”