Review Blog

Apr 30 2019

This excellent machine by Stephen Orr

cover image

Wakefield Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781743056134.
(Age: 16+) Clem Whelan is not sure if he wants to persist with the last year of school, he's more interested in observing the goings-on of the various neighbours he can spy on through a telescope from his bedroom window. But the adults around him encourage him in different ways: from Ernie with his Bolshevist convictions, to Peter the failed lawyer, Nick, the inspiring art teacher, to his Pop who tells him he has the brains and should use them. Clem has a mate, Curtis, he would rather hang out with, share smokes, and hear about his latest escapades with girls.
The central mystery in Clem's life is what happened to his father. He knows that Wilf left when Clem was young, but he doesn't know why and nobody will tell the least thing about him. It's like everybody in the suburb has been told to keep their mouths shut. But sometimes, he picks up on a word here and there, or latches onto an old photograph. What Clem gradually comes to realise is that his Pop has been the best kind of father he could possibly have had. Doug, his Pop, is gradually succumbing to dementia, he becomes forgetful and confused, but he is a true touchstone of good values. While his dream of striking it rich with the treasure of the fabled Lasseter's gold reef may sound just that, a dream, he conjures an element of adventure and escape that fellow men of the neighbourhood also find irresistible.
There are so many interesting characters in this book, and so many personal stories; they are all fodder for Clem's machine - his budding novel about how life is a machine where people go in and come out changed. And that is what the author Orr creates in the end, the excellent machine where people interrelate and are changed by their relationships, in a wonderful old-time suburb where people all know each other and look out for each other. The novel is about growing up in the Adelaide suburbs in the 1980s, the world of Datsuns and permed hairstyles, men having a drink at the pub, and women holding the fort at home. Much of it is told via conversations where the language is so Oz it makes you laugh at times. It is a very enjoyable book and offers much to reflect on afterwards.
Helen Eddy

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