Ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Chris Flynn

THERE’S a stan­dard plot that ap­pears with fre­quency in Aus­tralian lit­er­a­ture, one that usu­ally gets on my nerves. It is: sin­gle par­ent (of­ten fe­male but not al­ways) strug­gling to raise kids on her/his own against the odds on a re­mote sheep sta­tion/farm/crum­bling ru­ral prop­erty.

I knew there was a prob­lem of nar­ra­tive over­sat­u­ra­tion when my largely non-read­ing part­ner suc­cess­fully pre­dicted the ex­act plot of a re­cent novel com­pe­ti­tion as such.

That is not to say this is an aw­ful premise, and I imag­ine it rings true for many. As a reader I have sim­ply reached my limit re­gard­ing kitchen sink Aussie bat­tler drama.

Or so I thought. P.A. O’reilly’s lat­est novel is a re­fresh­ing re­minder that there is life in this premise yet, if ap­proached with hu­mour and grace, though per­haps a line should be drawn un­der The Fine Colour of Rust as the pin­na­cle of the genre.

Can any­one write the story of a whirligig sin­gle mother gamely and hi­lar­i­ously fight­ing de­vel­op­ment of her small town bet­ter than Paddy O’reilly? No, and nor should they try.

That the novel, her sec­ond af­ter The Fac­tory (2005) is be­ing pub­lished in Bri­tain and the US later this year is a clear in­di­ca­tion that O’reilly is a sig­nif­i­cant Aus­tralian tal­ent all readers should be aware of.

Reilly, here lurk­ing be­hind the gen­derneu­tral moniker of P.A., has proven to be one of our best short story writ­ers of re­cent years, with her 2007 col­lec­tion The End of the World a par­tic­u­lar de­light for the senses.

She brings those skills to this novel in cre­at­ing the vivid world of Gu­na­pan, a small coun­try Vic­to­rian town that feels like some Mad Max out­post of civil­i­sa­tion cling­ing on to its ex­is­tence. The pri­mary school is threat­ened with clo­sure, the scant water re­serves are threat­ened by de­vel­op­ers look­ing to es­tab­lish yup­pie get­aways and el­i­gi­ble bach­e­lors are thin on the ground.

In the midst of this is Loretta, a fraz­zled but de­ter­mined sin­gle mother to Melissa and Jake. De­spite limited re­sources, Loretta wran­gles and ca­joles her way through the com­mu­nity, step­ping on toes aplenty as she tries to pre­serve what’s left of her town. Her neigh­bour Norm, a wid­ower whose prop­erty sprawls with junk, is an iras­ci­ble com­rade-in­arms. He would be per­fect for Loretta were it not for an un­bridge­able age gap. They make

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