Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Silvey – Craig’ Category

Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Honeybee is the latest novel by Australian author Craig Silvery, who is known for the fantastic Jasper Jones.

Jasper Jones was likened by many readers to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in that it is an important coming of age story, albeit for Australians. Like Jasper Jones, Honeybee also featured a young main character going through very difficult times. I believe it is best suited to the Young Adult market, although think adults will also appreciate the story.

The story begins with fourteen-year old Sam Watson about to throw himself off an overpass in Perth when he noticed an elderly man at the other end of the bridge who was seemingly also about to jump. Instead of jumping, Vic drove Sam back into the city. A few days later Sam returned to the bridge, hoping Vic would come along again and he did.

The pair formed an unlikely friendship. Sam had had a much harder life than most. His mother was an alcoholic who was disowned by her family when she fell pregnant at a young age. Sam and his mother moved frequently and were often homeless and from a very young age, Sam had assisted his mother in a variety of scams to steal food, money and other items. More recently Sam and his mother had been living with her latest boyfriend Steve, a violent and abusive criminal.

Vic was a widower who was in pain, physically and emotionally. He desperately missed his wife, Edie and had only carried on living after her death because he had promised her he would look after her dog. By the time the dog eventually died Vic was very ill himself and in enormous physical pain.

For a variety of sordid and unhappy reasons Sam was unable to return to his mother and Steve’s home, so he ended up staying with Vic, cooking Vic fabulous meals that he had learned from watching Julia Childs on television and making friends with a girl who lived down the road. Most importantly, Vic encouraged Sam to be himself, which led to him wearing Edie’s clothes and eventually attending a drag show with Vic, where he met and befriended the fabulous Fella Bitzgerald, who would play an important role in helping Sam to understand what it was to be transgender and that she, Sam, wasn’t alone, or the only person in the world who felt that she had been born in the wrong body.

Reading back over what I’ve written, I noticed that I’ve started by calling Sam a boy then changed to calling her a girl as she realised who she wanted to be. I dithered over the pronoun (political correctness can be a minefield) but have gone with my initial choice as I felt the change in Sam’s pronoun as the story developed reflected her decision to be the person who she wanted to be.

Unfortunately some of the plot devices were both predictable and unlikely, such as Sam becoming an extraordinarily capable chef simply by watching Julia Childs’ videos and some characters are ridiculously over the top, such as Sam’s friend Aggie who is a particularly enthusiastic conversationalist and Steve’s depiction as a violent crim, but I still sat up late over two nights to finish reading Honeybee. I was left feeling hopeful for Sam’s future and will be happy to read Craig Silvey’s next book, whenever that might be.

My purchase of Honeybee by Craig Silvey begins my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2021 (January).

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is an Australian coming of age novel. I thought this book was a ripper, which for non-Australians, translates as extremely high praise. The story was made into a movie earlier this year, and starred Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving. I am yet to see the movie but am excited to see how the story translates on film.

The title character, Jasper Jones, is a teenage boy who lives in a small fictional town in Western Australia in the mid-1960’s. Jasper is an underdog, a mixed-race Aboriginal boy whose mother is dead and whose father is a good-for-nothing drunk. One night, Jasper knocks at the window of Charlie Bucktin for help.

Charlie is the story’s narrator, and he is one of the most likeable characters I have ever come across in Australian contemporary fiction. Charlie is an only child whose father, an English teacher, encourages him to read good literature. Charlie daydreams of becoming a famous writer and being feted by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. Charlie’s mother, like most married Australian women of the time, is a housewife. Her unhappiness with her situation is extreme.

Charlie doesn’t hesitate to go with Jasper when he knocks at his window, even though Jasper is the boy who everyone’s parents warn their children about. Jasper takes Charlie to a secret spot near the river, where they find Jasper’s young girlfriend dead, hanging from a tree in her nightie. Jasper says the girl has been murdered and that if the police come they will blame him for the crime. Charlie is certain that Jasper has not murdered the girl and together, they cut her down from the tree, weigh her body down with stones and throw her into the river.

This takes place in the first chapter of the book. The story isn’t a murder-mystery, although it is satisfying to learn the truth about the girl’s death before the story finishes. The story is about what happens afterwards, as Charlie learns of small-town secrets, family violence, racism and poverty, the value of friendship, experiences first love and learns resilience.

Charlie’s best friend is Jeffrey Lu, who with his parents came to Australia from Vietnam as refugees. From my memory of growing up in a small community a little later than when this book is set, the degree of racism that the Lu family experience from the town’s people is not over-exaggerated.

Jeffrey is a gorgeous character who is mad about cricket. The author’s use of cricket and Jeffrey’s hero-worship of Australian cricketing legend Dougie Walters really set the time and the scene for me, as I read about the boys listening to Test Matches on the radio. This made me remember my own childhood when the cricket was on the wireless and it was considered safe to let the sun beat down on bare shoulders. Children ran wild without anyone’s parents knowing or caring where they were, so long as they turned up for meals.

I loved reading about Charlie and Jeffrey’s arguments about which super-hero was the best, and about Charlie’s fear of insects. Their in-jokes were hilarious. Jeffrey swearing in front of his mother because she didn’t understand enough English to clip him over the ears brought me to tears of laughter, and I howled again at the way Jeffrey’s mother eventually caught on to his crime and gave him the punishment he deserved.

The story reads like Youth Fiction, but with enough literary references and big themes to be satisfying for adult readers. Just ignore the blurb on the front cover which says that The Monthly reviewer likens Jasper Jones to “an Australian To Kill a Mockingbird.” I always think that comparing books to other books is unfair and that this practice often sets a good book up to fail in a reader’s expectations.

I think Craig Silvey is a writer whose work will get better and better, and I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next.

 

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