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Bluebird

de Malcolm Knox

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Sek invited me to a meeting of her bookclub where the author of this book would be present. I was intrigued. Rarely do I read fiction these days. There has to be a special reason. Well I guess this was a special reason, so I purchased a Kindle copy and commenced reading. Initial impressions: it's a bit sad. The cast of characters is sad, the run down houses, clinging to the cliffs, are sad. It has the same sad kind of feeling that I got from "Run Rabbi" ...years ago....yet it went on to be a series. So I'll give this the benefit of the doubt and continue. Some nice lines there: "Old Bluebird's was a worker's aristocracy, except for the work part". ........"Josie, who had only a Gideon's bible, six Margaret Fultons and a shelf of completed crossword puzzle books to bequeath"......"Might well be you that gets control of all this', Red Cap went on, casting an eye around the falling-apart furniture, the saloon door, the diagonal pine feature wall below the kitchen bar and the yellowing books........Anyone else'd fuck it right up."........"The marriage had been like bushland drying out from lack of rain".
I'm finding the "seagull" narrator a bit cumbersome and annoying...can't figure out who the hell is talking in the "Bird's eye section. Is it Gordon? Is it Leonie? All a bit confusing. Another good line: "Tony's hair, the colour of pissed-on snow".
"The thing about villages inside rapidly changing cities was that you didn't need to move to escape your past. You could stand right where you were, and history would change around you..........Memory was erased by the salt-and sand-bearing-wind that rubbed away the names from the Anzac memorial statue in front of the surf club".
Must confess, I found myself chuckling at many of the lines: " As town clerk, Conal had ruled Bluebird and the surrounding beaches with a reinforced concrete fist for twenty-seven years."......"Spotting his Scotch on his bedside table, he proceeded at full shuffle."
"Mate', Frontal said, his misty breath clouding Gordon's eyes, "just think about what you're trying to save. All that shit we grew up with. Old Bluebird. Is it really worth saving?"
And then there are the shocks. Old Tony Eastaugh...perving on Gordon in the shower and Gordon stamping on his foot...apparerntly resulting in Tony eventually losing the foot. And Gordon's brother: "You said he was smiling when he jumped"....."I never said he jumped".
And totally from left-field. Uncle Carl....Kelly's brother. Ben remembered his dad telling him. "We all invested hope in him. The one lobster who would be allowed to climb out of the pot. Dux of our class, popular gentle, gorgeous.....what could possibly go wrong?"
And the terrible grandparents: "Ben's grandparents had never let go of the belief that Gordon's finances were their concern. They always wanted to know how he was paying his bills. No reassurances could stop them. They never offered to help. They just wanted to know".
I'm half way through....it's like watching a slow motion train wreck ...watching Gordon's life, kind of spiralling out of control. The outlook doesn't look too good for Gordon. Still some exquisite word portraits: "At the next table sat Neville Coyte, a buffer in blue blazer and club tie. Every single bloody meal. Above the table, Neville looked every bit the bowling club president and law firm partner Ron had kept at a safe distance for donkey's years. Below the table, Ron Knew, Neville was clad in stained pyjama pants and nappy. Poor old bugger."
He's clearly writing for an Australian Audience...no attempt made to explain the Anzac statue, and similar local references.
...."the all-cleansing properties of golf. Golf was good. Golf might even redeem even Kelly. Golf might turn her into a white woman". The unconscious racism ..."She's not Indian, she's Anglo-Indian".
"Neither of them had given thought to how Gordon would react to their schemes. How had he made himself such a bystander in his own drama that his mother and his wife should decide his fate like the dictators carving up Poland?"
Liked the introduction of Don Quixote into the mix and the parallels with Gordon.
Gordon loves Bluebird so much...they all (well nearly all) clearly consider it the best place in the world ...but they've never experienced anywhere else. (North Coast for a few weeks?) Their view of the world is so circumscribed. "I just love Bluebird", said Gordon. Was the author's view also like this? Doesn't seem to be written for an international readership .....so be interested to know whether it does have an international readership that doesn't mind the "localisms" or whether it's been re-written for American readers etc.? [ a bit later, I took the opportunity to actually ask the author about this at the bookclub meeting and he said that he deliberately kept it localised. His reasoning was that if American readers wanted to read it then it would be more authentic with the localisms instead of being re-written for Americans...and I kind of agree with him. After all...we read American and English novels and manage with their localisms.]
Why all the emphasis on gay sex, lezzos, paedophiles? Is this the way the beaches were? I remember Manly change rooms in the late 50's early 60's and the guys who used to nude sunbathe...like dried out old leather. Always rather unsavoury to us kids. Knox writes well. Easy to read. Dialogue crisp and believable...generally. Though one exchange between Lou and Principle Oxenford seemed a bit stilted:..."The inherited blindness. The quickness to disown privilege. The pride in the chip on the shoulder. The fetish for underdog-ism. The strident ordinariness."
I wonder where he gets his great on-liners? Are they original: "Only an idiot would keep a second key inside the car". ..."That's why I'm looking" .
"They were almost at the nursing home and Ron was going through Gordon's things with the persistence of a truffle pig."
Kelly does a nice assessment of Gordon's situation: "You're a good man, I get that you feel your obligations, but you're in truly fucked-up shape. You think your'e protecting Ben and staying here to be a good son to your parents and, oh yeah, preserving Bluebird and the Lodge, but you're not, you're just going crazy in your little cage, walking around in circles like you have been forever".
Loved the bit about Ben learning to drive and getting up his 120 hrs of experience. (Obviously from someone who has lived through it).
And now the secret revealed......Gordon, in terrified survival mode, had jumped from Owen's back on the cliff and in the process pushed his brother off... Finally he had revealed the secret from his 8 year old past. But for Ben? "You think your shared secret is a secret halved? Maybe for you it is, Dad. What about me? Now I've got a secret too. What am I meant to do? ........What do I do with your secret? Did you think about that?" Ok! maybe that could be the reaction but I think it's an over-reaction by Ben ..after 42 years. I think the secret could probably be spread around without too much damage....except maybe for Ron and Norma.
Another nice analysis from Kelly: Bluebirders aren't creatures of the depths. We are in the shallows, brackish little sea-water puddles left in the rocks by the receding tide."......"You might wonder why your dad [Gordon] is the way he is.......Why he makes all these bad decisions........I often think it goes back to your dad's brother".
Australianisms.."two cases of Tooheys Old"; "BSLSC". Even the name "The Lodge" has overtones of a Masonic Lodge...the self-help society ...a bit like life insurance for families. "Tony Eastaugh's funeral was a suitably modest affair. His generation was long gone, in honour, dishonour, or simply unaccounted for.......those men of the past were a figment of the imagination. One poke of a fire stick and they went down in minutes..."
The tangle of human affairs ....the relentless evil of Ron; his hold over the old events...and the manila folders.....reminds me of "A hundred year's of solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The revelation from Sam that "I saw Owen smile when he went. He was smiling at you Gordo.....He wanted to tell you that it wasn't your fault."
So now I've come to the end. Kind of a happy ending. All the loose ends tied down.....well more or less. Did Tony Eastaugh interfere with Owen? Never quite sure. What happened to Jude and Lou? Just drove off into the sunset with the La Marzocco. Is there something of "redeeming social value" in this book? Do I feel better after reading it? Short answer NO. But it did have an intriguing plot ...tangled and layers...like Norm'a conversation. (Which incidentally was brilliant). Found myself quite in awe of Knox's ability to weave the phrases together..and his clever turn of phrase. On the whole I enjoyed it
(Must have, because I've read it within 28 hrs of purchase). I give it 4 stars. (Would have liked to have come away feeling like I was better for reading it but really, feel that I've been entertained more than educated). Does it bring back memories of my own experiences at Manly and Freshwater? No, not really. I was always a day-tripper though I do recall going to Freshwater once with my dad ...maybe around 1950 and walking through sand dunes and banksias to get to the surf. And I have a photo from 1929 of my dad in the surf at Freshwater ...on some kind of surfboard.
Overall, I liked it and give it four stars. ( )
  booktsunami | Feb 13, 2021 |
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