Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

cover image

Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9781926428611
(Age: Senior secondary - adult) Sonya Hartnett has crafted a story that glistens with sunlight, like the 'golden boys' of the title, yet behind the light is the dark shadow that lingers over the town with the arrival of a new family whose swimming pool, toys, and luxurious home, is the envy of the locals. Yet it is the smiling, glossy father who weaves his way sinuously into the lives of the locals, the man who showers his children with toys that are so enticing to the local boys, who is the most disturbing.
Amidst a story of boys, Hartnett focuses on Freya, the clever adolescent daughter of the Kiley family: who is lost in admiration of the glorious Rex; who sees him only as the foil to her drunk father; who beats her mother and throws his dinner plate at the wall; who fails so badly that his daughter wants to die to avenge his existence. She cannot see anything but Rex's silken charm, so at odds with her own father, and in her fearful belief that she is at the heart of her family's misery, she blames herself for their lives.
Garrick, the tough boy whose family we never see, except for his gentler brother, Avery, is the one who wants to exact vengeance for Rex's actions. Both Colt, who knows what his father is, and lives in sustained dread, and Bastian, who does not want to know anything, who has sought refuge in a world of eternal child-like innocence, are to be punished too.
Set in the sleepy indolence of a country town, this Australian story brings no solace - only an underlying sense of dread and disquiet, handled with the sure deft touch of the writer, who does not let the tension slip for an instant.
It is not a pleasant story, but it is one that soars above the mundane narrative that suggests all is well with the world. Hartnett addresses questions that most fear to raise, and above all, sadly, suggests that finding the answer is even harder. Other than Garrick's answer, there is no release from the issues with which the characters live, and no answers to the children's questions.
I would recommend Golden Boys for older adolescent readers, but with caution, because it is a deeply disturbing novel, revealing truths that could be deeply disturbing, and vibrating with the tremulous whirr of summer insects that seem harmless but sting painfully.
This is not a novel to be read and lightly forgotten. Sonya Hartnett's characters simmer and her narrative resonates with emotion, as we anticipate and sense their responses with empathy and awe.
Liz Bondar