Review Blog

Jun 16 2011

The comet box by Adrian Stirling

cover image

Penguin, 2011. ISBN 9780143206101.
Teenaged readers will have little knowledge of 1986 when Halley's Comet captured the imagination of Australians. Adrian Stirling transports all of his readers however, when describing simple suburban life for an average working-class family living in Geelong.
Narrating from a fourteen year old boy's perspective, the character Andrew conveys a clear sense of wholesome security when describing his simple, predictable and essentially boring life. When Andrew's older sister Amelia leaves home without trace, his family undergoes massive upheaval and distress as they express shock, anger and fear.
Whilst pivotal to the story, this is merely one traumatic family event experienced within the community and for Andrew it is significant because it causes him to question the behaviour and motivation of adults. Readers might question Andrew's naivety when viewed against contemporary adolescents. I don't believe it is mere wistfulness however which causes me to remember a time where demands on children were fewer and they were somehow more protected from the harsher aspects of life.
Andrew senses that his parents are not being open with him regarding Amelia's disappearance and in a relatively short time, he discovers that other families are hiding similar unpalatable secrets. When Amelia is discovered by Queensland Police and returned, Andrew's home life becomes even more disrupted and yet he is still kept ignorant of the full details by those involved.
The central tale is expanded by vignettes involving friends, neighbours and an arrogant, dominating grandfather which collectively contribute to Andrew's emotional development. The lives and experiences described reflect everyday human flaws and the reader is left feeling sorry for a 'good kid' who discovers unpleasant aspects of life without the benefit of guidance by parents who are otherwise preoccupied.
Halley's Comet places the story in recent history yet also marks the passage of time in overall human experience, coming predictably every seventy five years.
What is initially presented as an event which stirs the dreams of both children and adults gradually loses importance in the lives of the struggling characters. This is very real, yet it was symbolic to me that human dramas count for nothing as the comet navigates the wildly complex celestial time piece and that no matter how bad things are, the sun really will come up in the morning.
Rob Welsh

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