The Armstrong family is marked by loss. When Jarrah died Bike and Sass became orphans. As a mother Lucy no longer exists in Sass and Bikes lives, she is just a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (P 18). Sass was abandoned in hospital, lying down in bed alone, unable to move. Bike is in foster care in some strange place among strangers, ‘…schoolyard taunts – your mothers in a looney bin.’ (P 152) Lucy has lost her mind and her life. The great loss that surrounds Jarrahs death has engulfed the entire Armstrong family. Sass and Bike have essentially lost both parents.
‘As for M, he who is anchored by neither wife nor home, nor by a lover nor even a single friend… ‘ (P 15) M is alone in the world; he has no one. He lost his first and only girlfriend and their unborn baby. ‘It has been a long time since he’s seen he’s old man… and it occurs to M that his parents might be dead…’ (P 16) M is at a loss when it comes to relationships. He lost his chance at being normal when he made the decision to live for the job, to live as a hunter. M, only when seeing and feeling for the Armstrong family, does he realise just what it is he has missed in life. ‘Once it has a grip on you, absence, it cannot be defeated – how can you fight against nothing…?’ (P 133)
M has no hope left in the world. ‘Only a child could nurture such hope, such conviction.’ (P 22) He is skilfully able to focus on the here and now: ‘the hunter’s greatest weapon: a sense of immediacy, a complete understanding of why space is time. I am here, he thinks, I am right here, right now.’ (P 117) Despite achieving this level of awareness up on the plateau, back at the house he refuses emotional contact and distrusts women and children. ‘He wishes he was up there now, up where it is calm and pure, space enough for a man to think.’ (P 139) In his lone M is goes by unaffected by his human condition as other men do. He sees the weakness among man and attempts to eliminate them in order to perfect his mind frame for his mission, to bring him closer to ‘godliness’. ‘Not like others he once knew, soldiers who refused to leave for a job because at the last minute they’d misplaced their lucky spoon, or a memento from a past lover or, worse, a dear departed colleague.’ (P 25) He did not allow himself to place such feeble hope in hopeless matters. He did not rely on a ‘memento’ to get him through but instead on his will to do so by perfecting his mind frame. M lost a great part of the human condition by loosing the hope that tomorrow may be the better day.
M is a man devoid of ethics and human emotion thus allowing him to bring the thylacine to extinction. M is ‘ruthless’ he will complete his mission at any cost, ‘…virus or antidote, M does not know, cannot know and does not want to know…’ (P 40) He remains unaffected by the potentially devastating effect his mission may have on humanity. The loss of the thylacine not only signifies the loss of the species but the loss of many lives and potential lives. The thylacines extinction is in accord with the fear of the future extinction of humankind. His buried cache of coffee to celebrate the end of his job is one of his barren attempts to give his life meaning.
‘If a man’s life were an island it would be uninhabitable.’ (P 139) To survive in this wasteland he has learned to slough off unnecessary detritus and so he concludes that his brief period of affection for the family was ‘a monumental lapse of judgement.’ (P 47) M comforts himself when he loses his tenuous grip on some sort of emotional attachment by believing that it will make him stronger. ‘What he sees now is that he has been tested, steeled, and seduced, and that is his true purpose is… to be a hunter, to harvest the tiger.’ (P 148) M’s protestations are flimsy, though, for he constantly resorts to universal mythical metaphors to explain the uncertainties; to translate the aching emptiness in his heart. His great tragedy in his incapacity to find within himself the necessary words to describe ‘the beautiful terribleness of the deed’ (P 164), when he finally achieves it. This is a dark tale about the need for vigilance; to constantly strive for connectedness in our lives. Maybe M is not the lost soul he appears to be. Maybe there is hope for him yet.