I first heard about this book a number of years ago from my Aunt, a librarian and avid reader. She had been less than complementary about it so I didn’t think much of it again. Over the years I’ve heard various accounts from people who have read and most talked of it in negative terms. This did nothing to instill a desire in me to pick this book up. Then two things happened. Several women from our playgroup read it and were having a particularly animated conversation about it – any book that sparks a discussion like this is worth a read in my opinion. The second thing was the ABC mini-series based on the book was being advertised and seemed to have a great cast and looked interesting. I watched the first episode and then made the decision to tape the rest and read the book first.
I now understand why people spoke negatively about the story, it wasn’t that the book was rubbish, it’s just that most – if not all – the characters are unlikable to some degree and many are difficult to relate to. The premise is, however, a compelling one. A child is slapped after threatening other children with a cricket bat at a backyard BBQ. The slap is dished out by a man not the child’s father and the parents take the matter to the police. What follows is the aftermath of this incident, a mere moment in time, putting friends and family against one another and consuming the lives and thoughts of many.
The author dedicates a chapter to each of the main characters and in this way you are given a glimpse into the inner workings of each person’s thoughts. As you encounter each new character a little more of the background of this odd collection of personalities is shared and as the story evolves you begin to understand that all is not as it seems. I enjoyed the way this book was structured and I found each character’s story intriguing. Considering the length of this book and the limited time I usually find to read, I finished this quite quickly. That must mean it had me hooked.
What I found noteworthy was Christos Tsiolkas’ ability to get inside the heads of his female and male characters alike, generally in ways that seemed authentic. I usually find male authors write female roles with something of a masculine undertone and I did feel this way occasionally with the characters of Rosie, Anouk and Aisha, but mostly I thought he captured the female mind with great insight. I was particularly surprised at how he was able to explain Rosie’s rationale for continuing to breast feed her four year old and her feelings of dislocation (and probably post-natal depression) from her life and herself she experienced in the early days of Hugo’s life. Anouk’s struggle to decide whether or not to continue with an unplanned pregnancy was convincing and Aisha’s cool, aloof mannerism were captured beautifully.
The male characters are, with the exception Richie, detestable. Extra-marital affairs seem the norm, violence, both realised and fanaticised, is everywhere and while they all claim to be loyal to family first and foremost so often their actions betray their words.
I was also impressed with the way Tsiolkas described the lives and thoughts of his two main teenage characters. They speak as you would imagine teenagers talking, without sounding like an adult trying to sound like a teenager. Their cavalier attitude towards drugs, alcohol and sex is scarily accurate. The angst and awkwardness experienced by Richie as he grapples with his own sexuality is both heartbreaking and heartening.
This book was able to draw me in within a few pages, not like the many I have read that you really have to commit to in order to finish. I enjoyed it from start to finish – though I would have liked a chapter of Gary, Rosie’s husband who was central to the story, but was not given the attention of the others. I have started watching the episodes I taped and as is almost always the case, the book is better than the series. The subtlety of the characters was lost and the events that occur have been sensationalised, sometimes beyond recognition. This is obviously because it’s impossible to get inside the minds of the characters as Tsiolkas does when the story is transformed for the screen. Nonethless, the story does remain intriguing and the acting is quite impressive, particularly Melissa George in her role of Rosie.
Finally, Miss Two’s latest library pick is Norman Enormous, one that we read every night for some weeks. She was so enamored with this gorgeous little story that it was the only book she wanted read each night, two or even three times, when usually we would read three or four different stories. Norman Enormous is a sad and lonely – but enormous – man who sets out to find himself a very best friend. He sends an invitation for tea to Norman Not-so-enormous and so begins a wonderful though unlikely friendship. It is written in a rhythmic, rhyming manner in a style similar to Linley Dodd – though perhaps not quite so fantastic – making it very easy and pleasant to read, which is a good thing if you have to read it over and over again. Even though this went back to library on Saturday, Miss Two still asks for it each night, that’s high praise from her.