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Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Armstrong


In honour of Australia Day, which was yesterday, today’s book review is by an Australian author.

Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Armstrong won the 2009 Age Book of the Year. In Victoria, Australia, we have two main newspapers, The Age and The Herald-Sun. The Age has a smaller circulation, but the saying goes, ‘The Sun is for the masses and The Age is for the classes.’

Things We Didn’t See Coming is a dystopian novel, and just like many of it’s kind, starts off with a chapter set in a world the reader actually recognises; in this case, Melbourne on New Year’s Eve. The narrator is an only child, who is helping his parents pack the car for a trip to visit his grandparents in the country. It is never actually stated in the story, but it is clear that the story begins in the millennium new year, when we all wondered if the world was actually going to end because of computer glitches. This seems funny to look back on now, but I don’t mind admitting that in the week between that Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I bought a few extra tins of tomato soup and baked beans, just in case… Midnight saw us on the foreshore of our town watching fireworks with friends, by 1am we were tucked up in bed safe and sound, then waking up in the morning to find life had gone on as usual, with a pantry full of tinned food to get through.

The narrator starts the story in much the same vein as my story. His father fears the worst, but his mother thinks his father is a fool for worrying. However, it turned out the narrator’s father was right. The computers did not click over properly and the world as we knew it, ended.

Each chapter leaps ahead to  different time in the narrator’s life. The second chapter was set in a future nobody could have seen coming. The narrator is now a delinquent teenager, living with his grandparents. Food and resources are scarce for people who chose to stay in the city, travelling into districts other than your own is not allowed and the divide between city and country people is enormous.

By the third chapter, the narrator is in his twenties and working for the government, clearing rural people from their homes to protect them from the coming floods. Water levels are rising due to changes in weather patterns, (global warming is not mentioned, so it is unclear whether the floods are caused by that or by something else that went pear-shaped because of the computers). The narrator is now a petty thief, taking advantage where he can to get ahead.

Each subsequent chapter has the narrator a few years older and the world changing again, although some things are timeless. The narrator falls in love with someone who loves him less than he loves her. People still seek power. People hide their real selves behind a public persona.

I believe Things We Didn’t See Coming is or was on the VCE English reading list, meaning that Australian Year 12 students studied this novel in order to complete High School. The setting is grim, but the story finishes with some hope for a happier future, perfect for students finishing High School and about to start the next phase of their lives.


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