Michael Sala The Re­storer

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

The be­gin­ning of Michael Sala’s The Re­storer is some­what of a slow burn. It’s 1989 and a fam­ily – fa­ther Roy, mother Maryanne, teenage daugh­ter Freya, and eight-year-old Daniel – move in to a run­down house in New­cas­tle, New South Wales, to ren­o­vate and start afresh. It’s clear, though, that some­thing’s not quite right. The next-door neigh­bour’s of­fer of help is rudely re­buffed by Roy, the kids are guarded and Maryanne is strangely dis­tant. We know al­ready that things will go badly wrong.

The steady in­crease of ten­sion from noth­ing-much to un­put­down­able is just one of many things Sala ex­e­cutes bril­liantly, but The Re­storer is more than just a tech­ni­cal suc­cess. It’s an in­sight­ful novel about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence that doesn’t solely fo­cus on the moments of phys­i­cal force. For the fam­ily, liv­ing un­der con­tin­ual threat changes ev­ery­thing about how they de­fine them­selves and the way they in­ter­act with oth­ers. Sala cre­ates an at­mos­phere of sim­mer­ing ten­sion with an un­der­cur­rent of un­pre­dictabil­ity that seeps in ev­ery ex­change, and the char­ac­ters are just won­der­ful with­out be­ing in any way showy.

It’s as if he can see through their skin. Teenage Freya is the high­light but they’re all ter­rific.

New­cas­tle it­self is an im­por­tant part of the story: on the sur­face, all beach and sun­shine, with cen­turies of tun­nels un­der the ground and ship­wrecks un­der the sea.

The house Roy has cho­sen is barely live­able at first but grad­u­ally and with much hard work, he suc­ceeds in ren­o­vat­ing it into a beau­ti­ful fam­ily home. It doesn’t last, be­cause some things can’t be re­stored. Maryanne is a nurse, and is re­spected and force­ful in her pro­fes­sional life – and yet. Sala is too em­pa­thetic a nov­el­ist for sim­ple so­lu­tions, but there’s a ten­sion be­tween fa­tal­ism and con­trol. Freya’s teacher makes the point about Shake­speare that “ev­ery play he ever wrote is re­ally about the con­trol peo­ple have over their own lives”. Maryanne knows Roy well – knows that “there was that fuse in him, smoul­der­ing ” – but she can only re­main her­self. Can Freya change her fate?

Sala makes you want to scream at the char­ac­ters, “No, don’t! Don’t do that!”, be­cause he makes you care about them. He’s taken a story from the head­lines and shown us how fam­i­lies end up there, in those hor­ri­ble fi­nal moments, and he’s done it with sen­si­tiv­ity and in­tel­li­gence and care. Sala is a bril­liant writer and The Re­storer is a fright­en­ing book be­cause it’s so real and so pos­si­ble. LS

Text, 352pp, $29.99

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.