I finished The 10PM Question last night. I enjoyed it, and so I went looking for reviews. Reading reviews is often unsatisfactory because people on review websites seem to mostly tell you the plot which tells you nothing. People don’t like books because of plots they like them for all of the other reasons. Thankfully I found something Kate had written about her own book. Kate De Goldi always sounds so incredibly perceptive and broad-minded on National Radio that it is unsurprising perhaps that she can be so clear about her own book.
At the heart of the story is — I think (other readers may differ) — Frankie’s need to separate out from his mother. He loves her very much and is deeply attached to her, but she is also, in a way, a great burden to him. The story works around his coming to understand these complex feelings towards Ma — his exhaustion with this burden, his acceptance of her ‘half-sad ending’ (that she may never leave the house), and his crucial understanding that her ‘ending’ doesn’t have to be his ending. That is, though he is deeply connected to her, he is also significantly different — he can, and will, make different choices.
But it was the next little bit that struck me,
My novels are always preoccupied with the progress a character must make away from the family/parents who have borne and loved him or her. All novels are about growing up, in some way — but children’s and teenage stories are especially about that — and the bittersweet fact of growing up is that we must grow away; in order to gain ourselves we have to — in some profound way — lose part of what we have loved and felt safe with — or, indeed, troubled by.
It struck me because I think that I just wrote about this in my last post, but I wrote about it from the reverse angle: not the child growing up but the parent. Me. Among the strange things about yesterday were (1) how affected I was by Eleanor’s last day at creche, and (2) how it had the same washed out, deadened feeling of the day I left New Zealand to go to Japan in 1998. When Cathy and I left I think we were both very much affected by the separation from our families, but
in order to gain ourselves we have to — in some profound way — lose part of what we have loved and felt safe with.
True enough. Before I left for Japan I often wondered when I would feel like a “grown up”. Since coming back to New Zealand I don’t have that feeling quite so much, although it was painful getting there.
So, because I had finished my hometown book, I went and looked at the Wellington Airport International Departures page in the internet and discovered that the last flight out of Wellington has already left, and that I would have to wait until 6.00am to catch a Qantas flight to Sydney. Which is what I have done.
Now I have to read “The Great Australian Novel”. I dutifully typed this into Google and followed this link. What I like about this list is that unlike the Listener in New Zealand which listed a whole bunch of books by their literary merit, this list is of Australia’s best-loved books. Which means that there are children’s books on the list. If children’s books were on the New Zealand list I think it would be a completely different list. Anyway, here are the top five according to a bunch of Australians:
- Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
- A Fortunate Life – AB Facey
- Dirt Music – Tim Winton
- My Brother Jack – George Johnston
- The Magic Pudding – Norman Lindsay
What surprised me about the Australian list is that I haven’t even heard of most of these books or their authors. I think this is surprising given our proximity to Australia. In fact, I have only actually read two books on the longer list: Cloudstreet and Oscar and Lucinda. I am so fascinated by this that I think I am going to have a look at most of the books in the top five. As I said, I have already read Cloudstreet and don’t feel like doing it again. It was on the reading list of a course I did at uni in 1994 so it is a good 16 years since I last read it, but I feel like it would be a bit lame for the first book on my journey to be one I have already read.
I went down to the library this afternoon and got out A Fortunate Life, My Brother Jack and The Magic Pudding (I already have Dirt Music, but I haven’t read it). Although they all look good The Magic Pudding looks completely awesome, and I am going to start with it.