Review Blog

Oct 06 2009

The lucky ones by Tohby Riddle

cover image

Penguin Books, 2009.
Suitable for senior students. A delightful read, highly recommended. This very readable novel gives a good insight into the mind of some Gen Yers, despite being set in Sydney in the 80's. It has a contemporary feel as it tracks the lives of a group of school leavers seeking to find themselves and make sense of their world in first few years after leaving school. 'Who's idea was life anyway?' (p39), Tom asks. 'Surely it (growing up) couldn't be so damn ornery.' (p191)
Tom, the protagonist, is a shy and uncertain art student who lives with his taciturn father in a Sydney terrace house. His hippyish mother and two sisters have left home, leaving Tom alone and relying on his few friends for company. Despite his drifting through days with not a lot happening - he attends art school, works for an eccentric couple or hovers at the edge of a few parties - it is not boring thanks to Tohby Riddle's writing. He captures this lifestyle with authenticity, humour and quirky, clever insights and imagery. 'A lady the size of a fridge had climbed onto the bus - with an asphyxiating cloud of perfume like a Katoomba fog -If the smell had been a noise it would have been a runaway truck crashing into a piano showroom over and over again.' (p.75). Oliver worked in a dodgy pizza parlour for so little money he would 'probably blow his pay on the bus fare home.' (p.90) Tom's boss at the warehouse directed like a 'flinty little buzz-cut general.'(p.172)
Tom is hesitant but doesn't take himself too seriously. He is an acute and entertaining observer of people and class. The scene where the boys crash Bob Dylan's press conference is a gem. Females are on the fringe of his life - opportunities present but he lacks self-confidence.
He is compared to Cain, the high achiever at school, who indulges in delusions of grandeur - a 'footloose poet genius' and musician, whilst sliding into foolhardiness, alcoholism and serial lovers. Oliver sets out to make money whilst Nathan organizes them all, except Cain, into climbing the Harbor Bridge, as a challenge. All seem to accept each other as they are, despite their different values.
The final chapter captures the successful Bridge climb at night with all its terrors. The high this generates reveals to Tom in an 'angel's arrow' that 'God is the present'; there is only NOW- grab it!
Tohby has done many quirky picture books and I look forward to further novels.
Kevyna Gardner

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