by P.A. O'Reilly
Published by Blue Door/HarperCollins
I was fortunate enough to recieve an autographed copy of this book as a gift from my Antipodean literary advisor. Despite having both a free book and a personal message from the author, I shan't let either cloud my opinion here.
But if you're looking for a good read about a group of not-quite-ordinary people struggling to carve a life out of a small town half way between Melbourne and and a great big open space, then you'd do well to pick up a copy.
On the other hand, if you're looking for something fast-paced and where the action explodes off the page, this isn't for you: this story moves at it own pace, it unfolds gradually and gives you the time to savour the grains and dust that make up so much of our lives.
The story revolves around Loretta Boskovic, a single mother among a sea of single mothers who daydreams of capturing the heart of a reliable and hopefully (though always imaginary) well-heeled man, whilst inspiring the rest of the town of Gunapan's population to do battle with big and small government. Her much dreamed of man also has to come with a pretty decent car because her own, as we explore in great detail, is always en-route to the scrapyard.
The town is, by and large, forgotten by everyone bar the locals and is thus ripe to be shafted by unscrupulous property dealers. Not only do they plan to nick the local water supply, they see the town as a sort of feeder factory of workers for the resort they plan to build (with help from some obliging members of the local council). That's battle No 2.
Battle No 1 involves dragging the Minister for Education, Elderly Care and Gaming into Gunapan to talk to the residents about their never-going-to-give-up battle to save their children's school from closure.
And if the minister's title brings a smile to your lips then you'll be happy to know that the book is laced with this kind of humour. It's not quite black, but for every situation Loretta and the town finds themselves in, there's nearly always a humorous lining. For me, one of the great lol moments was the hospital scene between Loretta, her sick mother and Loretta's children, which is both bizarre and sharply dark.
The characters, their lives and experiences are all well written and believeable - you warm to them all (except the scattering of baddies). If, like me, you read foreign literature to gain something of an insight into how other nations think and act, then you won't be disappointed, though it'd probably be wise not to imagine that the Gunapanians represent all of Oz. On the other hand, the issues being dealt with here are universal, the sort of things we read about wherever we are.
One of the things I like about reading books in non-British English is to discover how the langauge used differs to mine. So would I say that it is typically Ozzie in voice and circumstance?
I can't say I know enough about Australia and her people to comment, but it does reflect a certain gritiness, a willingness to get on with life without much moaning about what it's throwing at them. The language is undoubtedly Aussie, but given that Oz English is by and large British English, you only notice the difference in the details. In a way I'm a little disappointed by this: I know that if I read an American novel the English will be very different to British English. But this isn't a criticism of the book, it just shows how close Oz and British English still are.
My only real criticism is there is a long-ish build up to a fairly important event which we jump over, to land in the aftermath of an explanation of how it had unravelled and been dealt with. I felt slightly cheated because I wanted one or two of the baddies to get their come uppance, and I wanted the satisfaction of witnessing it.
On the other hand, O'Reilly twists and binds the ups and downs with so much humour and humanity that it's pretty easy to forgive her for not satisfying my expectations in that department.
It isn't a difficult book to read: the pages turn almost by themselves as O'Reilly's easy style of writing and the laughs keep you wanting more. Overall, I really enjoyed this snapshot of middle-of-nowhere Australia, a place populated with every-day people struggling to bring happines into some pretty tough lives, and not giving up on this despite the commercial and political skulduggery. Personally, I'd like to find out what happens next, but failing this, will settle for reading the rest of O'Reilly's back-catalogue.
You can order the book from Amazon, and while you're waiting, you can read the excellent interview with the author on her website.