Stephen Orr, Sincerely, Ethel Malley (#bookreview)

Like Lisa, I’m a Stephen Orr fan, but for some reason it took me forever to finish his latest book, Sincerely, Ethel Malley, partly I think because while its characters are engaging, it’s a novel that deserves concentration which I seem to have in shorter supply this year. This is not meant to discourage readers, because it’s a fascinating, and wryly humorous read that explores a range of issues, to do with art and society, against a backdrop of war-time 1940s Australia.

As those who know the story will have guessed, Orr’s novel takes as its starting point the infamous Ern Malley literary hoax. To summarise Wikipedia, this hoax was perpetrated by two conservative writers, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, who created modernist-style poetry in the name of a fictitious poet, Ern Malley. They wrote the poems using random words from various reference books and rhyming dictionaries, and, in 1943 sent them, in the name of Ern’s sister Ethel, to Max Harris, editor of Angry Penguins, the journal of a modernist art and literary movement. This movement included some of the leading lights of the Heide art group, which was the inspiration for Emilly Bitto’s novel, The strays (my review). They were modern, confident, and prepared to tackle head on conservative Australia. It wasn’t long before the hoax was exposed, but that wasn’t the end of it, because Max Harris was then tried for publishing the poems, on the grounds of obscene content.

I have written about literary hoaxes earlier in this blog, and made some points about what hoaxes tell us. Among these are that they raise some fundamental issues for readers and critics about the nature of literature, about what we mean by authenticity and how we define quality. Is a work, for example, somehow less “authentic” and of less literary quality because the author isn’t who we believe s/he is? In other words, is the work the thing? These are some of the issues Orr explores in Sincerely, Ethel Malley.

The novel’s intent is also suggested by the four epigraphs, the first of which – with its own in-joke – is “ascribed” to Aeschylus. It suggests that Prometheus is the source of “every art possessed by man”, so, perhaps, why worry about anything but the art? Then there’s Frederick R. Ewing’s suggestion that the problem occurs from a misunderstanding over where “the truth left off and imagination began” – which, in a way, is the idea underpinning this book. The third comes from Max Harris arguing, essentially, against “playing god”. And finally, there’s Donald Crowhurst’s “it is the mercy”. I’ve never heard of Crowhurst but, according to Wikipedia, he was an amateur sailor who disappeared during a race. Wikipedia says that this statement, which he left behind “is obscure, [but] most commentators have accepted that it signifies his relief that, at last, he is leaving an unbearable situation”.

All this will tell you that Stephen Orr has big ideas in his sights. Fortunately for us, they are wrapped up in the engaging character of Ethel. She carries the novel. It starts in 1981, with her death, and then flashes back to 1943, which begins the main body of the novel and tells the story of Ern and his poems from Ethel’s (first-person) point-of-view. The novel’s last chapter returns to 1981, with Max hearing about Ethel’s death. Ethel (and Ern) are Sydney-based – which is where McAuley and Stewart were based – but most of the action takes place in Adelaide, where Max Harris was based.

In the 1970s, Adelaide was a beacon of progressive thought in Australia, but back in the 1940s it was a very different place. Orr is South Australian and captures the ambience of the place and time beautifully, as our Sydney-suburban housewife, Ethel, makes her way between the iconoclastic Max, the lively bookseller Mary Martin, and Adelaide’s conservative establishment.

I thoroughly enjoyed the explorations – many of them done with wit if not downright cheek – about truth and authenticity, about poetry not being meant to be understood but to be “interpreted”, and about the art versus the artist. It’s subversive in self-consciously confronting some of the things we say and think about art and literature. It tackles conservatism, our resistance to innovation – “Originality. If your writing’s worthwhile, most people will hate it”, Max tells Ethel. Early in the novel is a discussion within Harris’ theatre group about what play they will perform, one by Shaw or one by Cocteau. Most of the players argue that people won’t come to Cocteau, because they “want a story”. For boundary-pushing Max, “that’s their problem”. He wants to do something “modern” (hence, also, his interest in Ern). This dilemma is not confined to 1940s Adelaide, but is one arts communities grapple with constantly. What will audiences tolerate?

Orr’s skill is in presenting his “big” issues through “authentic”, engaging characters and strong narratives which draw us into their reality. Orr’s characters are always warm and authentic (even when fictionalising an already made-up person like Ethel) and his dialogue is so natural. The story of Ethel as she struggles to prove that Ern is real, and his poetry not obscene, is entertaining – particularly when people start questioning her existence too. It can get mind-bending some times, and quite rollicking other times, as Ethel flips between present and past, but it works.

All of this is in the service of issues Orr thinks are worth thinking about, but it’s the thinking and the questions that are, in the end, more important than the answers, with Ethel, of course, being our guide. Early on, she’s never heard of Sid Nolan, but by the end she can hold her own with the best of them as she struggles to defend herself, Ern and his art against those who question. It’s both heartfelt and funny.

There is a lot to this book, but fundamentally, I see it as being about conservatism. In addition to the whole modernist poetry debate, Orr makes pointed comments along the way about the press and academia, not to mention Australians themselves. Ethel tells Sid Nolan, she’s learnt that “Australians hate anyone who claims to be creative”. In Sincerely, Ethel Malley, Orr is teasing us, goading us even, into being open to new ways of seeing, just as Max Harris wanted to do in the 1940s – and he has done so with his usual skill combined with a good dose of fun.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) loved this book and covered its essence very well.

Stephen Orr
Sincerely, Ethel Malley
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781743058084

Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press.

Stephen Orr, Incredible floridas (#BookReview)

Stephen Orr, Incredible floridasThe good thing about reviewing Stephen Orr’s latest book Incredible floridas is that you know the end at the beginning, so there’s no need to worry about spoilers. The end, the one that you read at the beginning that is, is that Hal, the 22-year-old son of artist Roland and his wife Ena, commits suicide. By the end, the real end that is, you have some understanding of why he does, but you are also left to think about the drive to create art and its impact on family, about parental love and father-son relationships, and about that notion that it takes a village to raise a child.

To make this work, Orr uses a flashback-style chronology. The novel starts in 1962, just after Hal’s death, and then flashes back to 1944, when Hal is 4. From there it moves forward in irregular bunches of years -1948, 1950, and 1956 – until we arrive again at 1962 where it takes us through the events leading up to the death. This, then, is not the book for those who seek excitement and plot. Rather, it’s for those who love character, are intrigued by families and neighbourhood relationships, and like historical fiction.

There’s more to it than this, however – and it relates to the artist-father Roland. He is clearly modelled on the Australian artist Russell Drysdale (1912-1981) about whom I wrote a couple of years ago. Roland’s work and career as described by Orr – his angular lonely figures in stark landscapes, and the decline in his reputation – is similar to Drysdale’s. And Drysdale’s biography – his having a son and daughter, his being rejected for war service because of a detached retina, and his son committing suicide at the age of 21 in 1961 – is similar to our fictional Roland’s.

And then there’s the title. “Incredible floridas” rang a bell with me, and a little research brought it back. Peter Weir made a short film called Incredible Floridas in 1972. (It’s available on YouTube.) It portrays Australian composer Richard Meale (1932-2009) creating his work, Incredible Floridas, which was inspired by the 19th century French poet, Rimbaud. Curiouser and curiouser.

But, how much of this is relevant to Orr’s novel? Well, Meale’s work is an homage to Rimbaud, just as Orr’s is to Drysdale. And Weir’s award-winning short film has been described as “a wonderful tribute to artistic inspiration” which we can see in Orr’s book. Then there’s Rimbaud’s poem, “Le bateau ive” (“The drunken boat), which includes the words “incredible floridas”. It’s about inspiration and ecstasy, and their downsides, disappointment and disillusion. There are, in fact, several references to boats in the novel, paper ones and a painting Roland does of a child in a boat with panthers, another reference to Rimbaud’s poem, in the background.

And, while I’m at it, there are also allusions to Shakespeare’s Henry IV Pt I. Hal is nick-named Prince Hal, and the allusion is underlined by one character telling him to watch out for Hotspur. The irony, of course, is that our Prince Hal does not win out in the end.

I hope all this hasn’t been boring – or worse, off-putting. The book can be read very comfortably without knowing any of this, but I love the layers they contribute. Now, the novel.

“casualty of art”?

Set in mid-twentieth century suburban Adelaide – mostly – the novel tells of Hal’s growing up within a small community comprising, primarily, his family (father, mother and older sister Sonia) and neighbours Mary, her brother Sam, and her lupus-afflicted daughter Shirley who is ostracised and bullied by the neighbourhood kids. Other characters, who appear more sporadically, include Roland’s art school friend James, Mary’s cousin Trevor, and Hal’s grandmother Nan who works for Dr Bailey. These make up “the village” which raises, or tries to, Hal.

From 1944, when Hal is 4, it’s clear that he’s not an easy child. And it’s also clear that Roland is driven by his art – “art was an all-or-nothing proposition”. How these two are related is central to the book. Hal regularly feels he comes second, but Roland is not the stereotypical dark, inward-looking artist. Sure, he thinks about his work most of the time, and sure, he had his “periods … months on end when they barely saw him”, but he is also seen engaging with the family and making time for Hal. Finding the art-life balance is a challenge for creators, particularly when they work from home. Always being there doesn’t mean they are always available. Is Hal a “casualty of art” or are his problems something else?

When Hal is around 16 years old, directionless and acting erratically, sometimes violently so, Roland takes him on the first of several road trips because “he knew that Hal could only be made better under the stars” (albeit Ena thinks Hal “needs a proper doctor”). To a degree it works, but Roland can never quite get it right. Of course he thinks about art and makes sketches – creating a visual diary of the trip – while they travel, but he’s also there communicating with his son, talking about options, and not pushing him to be anything in particular. Unfortunately, Hal doesn’t see the love, the sacrifice, the wish for him to be “happy”. He just sees it as Roland “trying to improve his character”.

Stepping into some of the gaps left by Roland’s busy-ness is next door neighbour Sam. He becomes a second father to Hal, taking him to the racecourse, providing his own thoughtful counsel when Hal comes calling, and making significant sacrifices to help Hal. Nan’s employer, Dr Bailey, is also generous. But Hal just keeps on getting into scrapes – at school and in the neighbourhood. He has few friends because, as he himself realises, he doesn’t know how to be one. As Ena says in the opening section, “Hal was Hal, and his wires were crossed”.

While art and the artist’s life is an overall theme, this is primarily a book about men, about fathers and sons. And Orr portrays them so authentically. There are women here too, but this is the mid-twentieth century and it’s essentially a man’s world in which women’s agency is limited. All they can do, Ena sees, is to follow the men, and try “to make the unworkable work.” Similarly, poor Shirley sees the sacrifices Sam makes for Hal, who has treated her poorly, and wonders where she fits.

So what more is there to say? The writing is clear, evocative and, what I especially love about Orr, includes wonderfully natural dialogue. I’ll just share one excerpt (but it’s so hard to choose!). It comes from 1944 when four-year-old Hal and Roland visit an airforce base with Trevor Grant:

Uniform or not, things were looking up. Hal studied the plane’s wings and asked his dad, “D’yer reckon it’s got guns?”
“D’yer reckon I could look inside?”
“Prob’ly not.”
Grant and the other man approached them. The man messed his hair. “This is top secret,” he said. “Has Corporal Grant administered the oath?”
“No, sir.”
“Well, he will, later. And once you’ve taken it you can’t say nothing about this to no one, or else the government will come lookin’ for you. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.”
Roland noticed the same look on his son’s face, as Hal studied the two men. Like he’d just seen a comet for the first time. Something marvellous, new; a boy in a boat in a jungle full of panthers.

Incredible floridas is the third Orr book I’ve read, the others being The hands (my review) and Datsunland (my review). What keeps me coming back is his ability to capture ordinary, day-to-day human interactions, human hopes and fears, with such realism and warmth. There’s no judgement from Orr. He leaves that for the reader to consider.

Lisa (ANZlitLovers) is also a Stephen Orr fan and enjoyed this book.

Stephen Orr
Incredible floridas
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781743055076

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)

Stephen Orr, Datsunland (#BookReview)

Stephen Orr, DatsunlandTwo things I loved about Stephen Orr’s novel The hands (my review) were its evocation of men, boys and their relationships, and its rural setting. And this is also why I liked Datsunland, his recent short story collection comprising thirteen short stories and a novellaIt’s a no-holds-barred exploration of the lives of boys and men. It is not a pretty book, but it feels real, even where it pushes extremes.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) interviewed Orr in one of her early Meet an Australian Author Series of posts. Answering her question about who inspired him to write, he said

I became convinced the human psyche was the only thing really worth worrying about, so I’ve been working at it ever since.

This is true of these stories in which men confront their dreams and hopes, their strivings to achieve these, and their frequent failures. Take, for example, the first story, “Dr Singh’s despair”, which is about an Indian doctor from the Punjab who obtains a visa to work in rural Australia. We are desperate for doctors in rural/outback areas and he seeks a better life for his family. Unfortunately, his welcome – to Coober Pedy, which would be a challenge for anyone – is less than ideal. Indeed, we could call it non-existent. Not surprisingly, Dr Singh does not last and returns home, “disappointed … [but] at least happy”. This is the first story in the collection … worth considering, that ordering of the stories!

The stories in this collection are loosely linked. Most are set in rural or suburban South Australia; all focus on men (though women do appear); and many reference, sometimes so briefly you could miss it, a particular school, the Christian Brothers’ Lindisfarne College. The characters never cross into each other’s stories, however. It’s more that the school represents a certain conservative or inward-looking value or attitude – which makes this a good time to introduce the second story, though I promise to not describe every story in the collection! Titled “The shot-put”, it is set on a farm in 1919, just after World War 1, and concerns a couple whose son, a school shot-put champion, is being publicly listed on a Cowards’ List and has therefore been removed from his school’s – the aforementioned college – Honour Board. It’s another story of hopes (and in this case promise) unfulfilled – and more, of lack of compassion.

Lack of compassion is, in fact, one of the underlying themes of the collection. Had Dr Singh in the first story, for example, been shown some compassion, he may have stayed. In the fourth story, “A descriptive list of the birds native to Shearwater, Australia” a new wife begins to realise that what she’d hoped might be compassion in her husband was something entirely different, and in the fifth story there’s something creepy in Brother Vellacott’s caring for Miss Mary. It all, though, comes to a head halfway through the collection, in “Akdal Ghost”, the seventh story. It’s about a preacher, Pastor Fletcher, who should be compassionate, right? He hires a commercial video producer to make a video showing people what will happen if they don’t “find God”. It features the Akdal Ghost, which I had to look up in Wikipedia, and is absolutely shocking, though, as in several of the stories, Orr does not play it fully out. Much more effective to leave it to the reader’s imagination!

Religon is another motif that runs through the collection, and is behind some of the most violent stories. Besides “Akdal Ghost”, there’s “Confirmation” in which a massacre in 1976 Ireland is set against the hopefulness of a son’s confirmation, and “The Syphilis Museum” about a man preparing for the end of the world. One gets the impression that Orr is not a fan of religion.

And, so the stories continue. Some are more poignant, such as “The Barmera Drive-in” about a 45-year-old man who buys an old, long defunct, drive-in, thinking (hoping) he can reclaim his childhood and in so doing make the (or his) world a better place, and “The Shack” about an aging father who needs to decide what to do about his “retarded” son.

Most of the stories focus on adults, but a few feature children, including the 9-year-old boy lost in the hull of ship under construction (“The One-eyed Merchant”) and the 6-year-old boy trapped with a neglectful mother and an abusive step-father (“The Adult World Opera”). The final, titular story, “Datsunland’, which appeared in last year’s Griffith Review IV novella edition, also features a child, though in this case a teenager.

At 100 pages, “Datsunland” concludes the collection beautifully, continuing the melancholic tone but containing just that little bit of hope to leave us not completely discouraged as we turn the last page. It concerns teen-aged Charlie Price, his widowed father Damien, who sells second-hand cars at Datsunland, and his Lindisfarne College guitar teacher, William Dutton. The story opens with William Dutton, a struggling musician who finds teaching, particularly at that “poor cousin of elite schools” Lindisfarne, stultifying. He hates the narrow focus on assessment and performance, on trivialities, such as the proper wearing of socks, on rules that squash motivation and creativity.

Meanwhile, Damien knows his son is bright, has potential, but becomes increasingly concerned about the relationship developing between Charlie and William. The story leads us on, keeping us, along with Damien, unsettled, exploring the awful challenge faced by teachers in today’s fearful environment. What are the boundaries between teacher and student, and where are they crossed? How can a teacher nurture, safely?

Now, more often than not, reviewers describe short story collections as uneven, which is probably not totally unreasonable, because how can every story have equal punch for every reader. So, I’m not going to go there. I don’t think it particularly helps and, anyhow, I’ve seen reviews of collections where different reviewers identify very different stories as the best or the weakest. It’s so subjective, particularly given short stories can range from quiet slices of life to plot-driven-tales-with-twists. If you are a plot-twist lover, can you equally love the quieter story? I’ll simply conclude by saying that in Datsunland, we, like William Dutton, find ourselves “caught in the middle of multiple truths” – and what uncomfortable truths they mostly are. It’s a provocative read, but a good one.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) reviewed the novella and the collection. The collection has also been reviewed by French blogger Emma (bookaroundthecorner) and Carmel Bird (The Newtown Review of Books) whose insightful analysis of the language and style is well worth reading.

Stephen Orr
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781743054758

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)

Delicious descriptions: Stephen Orr’s farm family

When I reviewed Stephen Orr’s farm-set novel, The hands, last week, I didn’t share many quotes as the post was getting rather long. I decided I’d use my Delicious Descriptions series instead! So, here are three excerpts to show you more of what I so enjoyed about Orr’s writing.

One aspect I really enjoyed was his dialogue, but it’s tricky choosing something that works out of context. However, here’s a discussion between parents Trevor and Carelyn, and their eldest son Aiden about whether he continues school to Year 12. Young brother Harry is there too:

‘Maybe there’s no point starting Year Twelve,’ Aiden suggested, looking at his parents.
‘Why not?’ Trevor asked, not entirely surprised.
‘Not if I’m gonna fail things.’
‘Why are you going to fail?’ Carelyn asked.
‘Maybe not fail, but get through with Cs.’
She crossed her arms. ‘You’re not a C student.’
‘It’s getting harder.’
‘So? You work harder. Year Twelve is minimum for anyone now.’
‘But what’s the point if —’
‘You. Will. Continue.’ She decided  against the lecture. How he (Yes, you, look at me when I’m talking to you) was, for seven years, the best student in his School of the Air class; how he used to finish maths worksheets in minutes and spend half an hour waiting for others; always scored an A on tests and had a spelling age five years above his actual age.
‘It’s only another year,’ Harry said to his brother.
Aiden gave him his shut up, Shit-for-brains look. ‘It’s none of your business.’
‘You’re meant to set a good example.’

I don’t know about you, but I love this. It’s so “true”. I love the “gonna” for Aiden, and the “going to” for his Mum; I love big brother’s condescending-irritated-but-love-you-all-the-same “shit-for-brains” response to  his brother; and I love the whole set up of the argument regarding the importance of education.

And here, without spoiling anything, is a description of what comes after an affair:

… It was more a case of what came next: the small wedding, in a small park; the moving van; the bathroom reclaimed by lavender soap and fresh towels; her, inserted into his life like a deep splinter; opinions floating through the air and settling on the floor like talc; fine words butter no parsnips; her laugh; bright dresses on the line beside their overalls and pyjamas …

A little north of Orr's "Bundeena" but you get the picture.

A little north of Orr’s “Bundeena” but you get the picture.

But finally, of course, you need a description of the land:

Bundeena was marginal country. It could carry cattle, sparsely. To Trevor, this was where Australia became desert, where man — following the east-west railway, before it seriously set its sights on the Nullarbor — had given up on agriculture. Most men, at least. Except for them: sixth generation Beef Shorthorn producers who’d wrestled with the land for 130 years. This was country that hadn’t asked for farmers but had got them anyway. On the southern edge, the railway line, and to the north, nothing. They had neighbours to the east and west, but they may as well have been living in New Zealand.

So evocative.

Stephen Orr, The hands: An Australian pastoral (Review)

OrrHandsWakefieldAs promised, here is my review of a farm novel, Adelaide-based Stephen Orr’s The hands: An Australian pastoral. It is his sixth novel but the first that I’ve read. Where have I been? The hands is such a good read I wonder why I haven’t read him before.

Among the review excerpts for his previous novels provided at the beginning of my edition is one for his fourth, Dissonance. It says the book prompts us “to ponder the deep nature of familial relationships and their hold over one’s life”. This must be Orr’s milieu because I could write exactly the same about this book. It is set on a remote cattle property called Bundeena, in western South Australia. At the start of the novel, six people live there: 74-year-old Murray who holds the deed to the farm; his sister Fay and her not-quite-right son Chris; and Murray’s son Trevor, his wife Carelyn, and their 11-year-old son Harry. The seventh member of the family, 17-year-old Aiden, is at boarding school. In the first of the novel’s three chronologically titled (2004, 2005, 2006) parts, we shift between the third person perspectives of those at Bundeena, and that of Aiden at school.

Like most farm novels I’ve read – such as Alice Robinson’s Anchor point (my review), Jessica White’s Entitlement (my review) and Gillian Mears’ Foal’s bread (my review) – The hands, depicts the hard life of the farmer, the struggle to survive, and the uncompromising emotions that often attend such lives. You have to be tough to survive is the implication. But, do you? Sometimes, perhaps, you can be too tough. Orr’s characters have to contend with much – not just ongoing drought and debt, but grief that is layered upon layer through the generations, from the World War 1 related suicide of Murray’s grandfather, through the farm accident which damages Chris, to another accident which rocks the family and sparks the tension that finally brings it all to a head. Secrets will out and truths, emotional and practical, must be faced.

This sounds pretty thickly laid on, doesn’t it? World War 1, suicide, farm accidents, drought, and more. How believable is it all? Fortunately, Orr’s control of his plot is sure, and the tone never shifts into melodrama. The story elements fit logically, with the necessary groundwork carefully laid. It pays to notice the details. Is there a hint, for example, in the first film we find movie-mad Chris watching, The Great Escape?

The hands is not a challenging novel to read, and it doesn’t break ground in terms of the form, but from the first page I was fully engaged – because it’s authentic. We reviewers can throw that term around rather loosely, but you’d better believe me when I use it for this novel. Orr’s ability to capture characters and the way they interact with each other is truly impressive. The uneasy relationship between Trevor and his unbending father, the love and loyalty between Aiden and Harry that lies behind the teasing and bickering, Trevor’s conversations with his sons. It’s pretty darn perfect.

Orr’s control of his story starts with the title. “It’s all in the hands” we read, and hands feature consistently throughout the novel – working on the farm, driving, sculpting. Sculpting? Yes, Trevor sculpts son Harry’s hands. Fittingly, the novel concludes as the sculpture is completed. And then there’s the subtitle. I love the use of the word “pastoral” and its multiple connotations. There’s the literal meaning relating to land used for grazing sheep and cattle. That describes this book. Then there’s the Christian church sense of providing spiritual guidance. Hmm, there’s a dearth of good guidance (spiritual, emotional, however you like to frame it) offered in this novel, particularly by patriarch Murray. In the end it’s Murray’s powerless, down-trodden sister Fay who comes good. And then there’s “pastoral” used to describe works of art which portray country life in a romantic or idealised way. But, this is not a romantic or idealised story, making the subtitle pointedly ironic.

This is a novel about a lot of things. Specifically, it’s about farms and farm families, about how farms and the responsibility for them are handed down through families. It’s about the expectation that succeeding generations will farm, and it’s about one generation letting go to allow the next to continue. The trouble is that at Bundeena, Murray will not let go. He holds the deed, and Trevor feels trapped. More than that, he feels unvalued and without autonomy. Aiden notices it too:

The word was with Murray, and Murray was the word … There wasn’t much love or compassion in him. He was a sort of farmer shell, a hollow man full of regrets and knowledge and skills he couldn’t use any more, except as a sort of walking opinion that no one wanted to hear.

Talking with him, feels Trevor, is like “arguing with a rock”.

The specific farm themes, though, encompass bigger themes to do with familial love and responsibility, choices and autonomy, guilt and shame. It is these that lift The hands from a good, but exotic to most of us, farm story to something that applies to us all. In this context, though, it must be said that women play only a small role, and the role they play could be seen to be a little idealised, in that much of the warmth or perception comes from them. However, this is not overdone. They are not sentimentalised, and their relative absence is not a flaw: this is a book about men, about generations of farming men, their lives and their decisions.

Still, it’s to Fay that I’d like to give the last word:

Family, she realised, was the most difficult thing of all. It never reached a point of completion and what was there never seemed satisfactory. But one thing, she realised: there was always a pivot, one person at the centre holding it all together.

In The hands, this turns out to be Trevor. It is he who must make the tough decisions for himself and his sons. This novel is satisfying on so many levels – story, style and subject matter. I comment it to you.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) loved the novel too.

Stephen Orr
The hands: An Australian pastoral
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2015
ISBN: 9781743053430

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)