A Long Way from Home
Faber and Faber Ltd.
‘I had waited for it, the wet season, through every blistering morning and the heated rocks of afternoon, and still I was not prepared, not for its density, immensity, the roar upon the roof, the obliteration of all distance, the air sucked from my lungs, as if it meant to kill me. This rain was the temperature of blood. It polished the tree trunks until they shone.’
The Australian author Peter Carey carries with him a weighty reputation. Twice winner of the Booker Prize, he is undoubtedly a brilliant writer and I was expecting great things from ‘A Long Way from Home’. It follows a couple, Irene and ‘Titch’ Bobs, who decide to enter the Redex Trial. The Redex is a continent-circumnavigating car race where the dirt, dust, and heat of Australia should be too much for any automobile. Set in the 1950s, the journey over sun-baked dirt will expose cracks in the Bobs’s marriage and White Australia’s relationship with its colonial past.
Carey’s prose is beautiful. I found it to be clipped, not to the extent of Hemingway, but in a way that expected something from its readers nevertheless. Irene, her husband, and their neighbour Willie Bachhuber are allowed space to breath between the sentences. There is no spare writing here, no fat on the bones.
Our three main characters are also extremely well formed. Irene and Willie take turns to narrate chapters, their voices distinct and compelling. They also evolve as the story goes on; our feelings towards Willie and his married neighbours are certainly not the same at the end of the race as they are at its beginning. We are at turns rooting for, frustrated with, and elated on behalf of each person. Each has weaknesses and foibles, each their own power to disappoint the expectations Carey cultivates for them at the beginning of the book. This did have the effect of making the reading of the novel a little slow at times. With no traditional heroic protagonist to root for, this was not a book that one could read in snippets. I found that lengthy sessions with the prose were necessary to appreciate Carey’s skill in character building.
What really brought the novel it’s depth, however, was the exploration of race. What begins as an all-white cast of characters slowly begins to confront the indigenous history of Australia as they travel counterclockwise around the continent. I won’t spoil the central reveal of the story, but Carey finds a unique and inciteful way to explore how a country’s conquerors are treated differently to those who originally inhabited it.
This wasn’t a page turner for me, but I found that what the book lacked in pace and flurry it compensated for in depth and the ability to provoke introspection.
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Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order