“Australian” says the sticker the librarian has applied to this book. I guess Australians want to read about themselves? Maybe the designation is for the benefit of the large number of library users who come from other countries and want to find out more about their new home.
I’m not particularly drawn by an “Australian” sticker – in fact the very best books I’ve read have been written by Canadians about their culture and identity. I borrowed this book after my attention was initially drawn to it by its short-listing for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
It turned out that I did actually relate very closely to many aspects of this story, including – surprisingly – the “Australian-ness”. There are lots of references to Australian events and culture which I could relate to but non-Australians would surely find to be obscure or even opaque.
I found great empathy with the protagonist, Fred, a recently retired engineering academic who develops a relationship with his neighbour in the retirement centre into which he has just moved. What initially appears to be Fred’s idiosyncratic quirkiness is gradually revealed as a much deeper character flaw which has manifest itself through his roles as teacher, father and husband. He discovers that he has been a “monster” in his relationships – and is still behaving monstrously towards his new neighbour. Is it possible to change? Can Fred restore his broken relationships with his two children?
These issues lead to much introspection by Fred … and by this reader.