Review Blog

Mar 16 2010

Access Road by Maurice Gee

cover image

Penguin Australia, 2009. ISBN 9780670074020
(Age 16+) This thriller about five old people has the astonishing ability to immerse you in their lives and memories and builds to a gripping climax.
This is classic Maurice Gee - 'one of New Zealand's finest writers.' He writes about the impact childhood has on adult lives whilst capturing the voice of his protagonist, Rowan Beach, an eighty something woman, recalling her life growing up in Access Road, Loomis, NZ with her two brothers, Lionel and Roly. Neither brother marries and they end up living together, despite taking quite different paths in life. Roly gardens while Lionel seems to have given up and refuses to leave his bed, his memory slipping away. As Rowan visits them, fragmented but vivid memories recur. Woven throughout the story is Clyde Buckley, long time friend of Lionel's but a sinister presence to Rowan, who remembers his childhood act of cruelty. Here are the Gee themes of a distinct sense of place with a lurking sense of hidden violence.
Rowan and Dickie have had their ups and downs but they are still together and caring for each other. Daughter Cheryl is coping with an assault and hopefully finding a good man; Dickie is being tested for troubling pains. Rowan is such a responsible, caring and good woman her inaction and silence make us question what we would do in her situation. That he can make such ordinary people so interesting is testament to Gee's talents.
Gee writes with seemingly effortless imagery: 'She plucked a banana from the bowl and threw it backhanded across the room, where it bounced off the wall and sat grinning on a chair.' p75.
This remarkable book should be read by students but it is unlikely that it will be. Senior students might be recommended it for a connected text but I can't imagine many choosing it off the shelf. Adults will enjoy these characters and their thought-provoking moral ambiguities.
Maurice Gee was among ten of New Zealand's greatest living artists named as Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Artists in 2003.
Kevyna Gardner

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