Take a journey with me…
Margaret River Press
One short, beautiful summer of love, and then a tragedy – and the Vietnam War – will drive four friends apart.
But nothing is straightforward about what has come between them. And nothing is clear, really, until years later, when Nick goes back to where it all happened and trawls through his memory to put the pieces together.
Charles Hall’s novel tells a very personal story set in Australia in the rebellious days of the 60s, a decade of upheaval, when one’s own journey was intensified by the politics of the world – civil rights, feminism, drugs and, at the heart of the upheaval, the Vietnam War and conscription. It was a time of uproar on every level – families, music, film, relationships and a belief that not only did the world need changing but that ordinary people could change it…
This reads as an intimate, personal account of life, a coming of age story set in tumultuous times of the late 60’s early 70’s; written in the first person, it feels like the protagonist Nick/Nicko is talking directly to you, sharing his experiences, his personal growth, his relationship ups and downs… and his political thoughts.
Some small part of me identifies very strongly with this era (I missed being part of what became affectionately known as the psychedelic /free love/hippy era by a mere decade or so), I was a teenager challenging my own world as this comets tail was in its death throes. But I had aunts and uncles that grew up in this time and I witnessed some of their “freedoms” enviously. As a teenager with limited experience of the world I thought they were so lucky. I love/d the music, the fashion (the wide, wide legged flairs) peace signs on jeans, necklaces, bracelets, denim was king, bold blue eyeshadows and big eyes, big hair, fun…passion, the beginnings of feminism and the rise of equal opportunity. I was too naïve to appreciate that all this “freedom” came with a cost – the threat of conscription was very real, I found it incredulous that conscientious objectors were thrown in jail, no freedom of expression, personal rights here. The sexual revolution came at a high cost too – for some women the cost of not having freely available, stigma free contraception meant experiencing the backyard abortionists – some did not survive this experience. Attitudes and laws had not caught up with this new culture of freedom the 70’s rushed to embrace. And yet it had an appeal, a romance, an image of youth and freedom that I found intoxicating. Hall’s protagonists’ cleverly lead us through these tumultuous times, showing all sides of this revolution.
Hall’s’ characters are very likable – Nick/Nicko, Helen, Alison and Uncle Clem all demonstrate those wonderful characteristics we as Australians love to identify with; the battlers, the free spirits, the larrikins, the hard workers…people who made their own opportunities…even the “bad guy” Mitch has elements of likeableness that you can’t ignore – he volunteered to serve his country – Australians are big on patriotism, he came back wounded and experiencing Post Traumatic Shock – Australians pride themselves on their empathy. Great casting here.
The settings and locations were very real to me. I recognised some of the flats, the shared houses, the op shop furniture and barely going first cars. I am sure that aside from the huge hike in rents some of these places haven’t changed very much at all. The trips across the Nullarbor – a few towns have grown, a few have disappeared but the journey, the excitement of making that crossing to a brave new world is still exhilarating (especially if you live in Perth and travel eastwards rather than the other way).
There is so much in the book to enjoy. There is so much nostalgia; I loved this book with its simple, easy to read style that talks to you like you are a best friend. The narrative is complex yet innocently beguiling at the same time. It is a coming of age and a personal story, an Australian story, spoken in the colloquial; laconic, blokey yet peppered with insight and self-awareness. And it is a tragedy – on some many levels. Read this and take the journey back to a different time, read with your eyes wide open.