The Houdinis live in a rundown, isolated house called Whispers in the heart of the South Australian bush. Acantia and Pa have fled Germany, where Pa was a famous violinist, to self-educate their children and let their creativity reign free. Acantia teaches her five children the art of painting, music and play, fending off the outside world threatening to impinge upon them. Parental neglect and cruelty is countered by the energetic mad and protective love Acantia dishes out to her family, even when they have no food on the table. Her strange ritualistic rules and regulations govern the family's life until her fervour descends into a madness which has repercussions for each child and the family as a whole. In language spun with masterly control and much humour, Sallis sensitively captures the innocence and confusion of growing up and shows both the love and damage families can cause themselves.