The Big Issue : Edition 437
THe Big issue 19 Jul –1 Aug 2013 41 British writer Rachel Joyce’s second novel, Perfect, has big shoes to fill. Her first novel was the much-loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. Perfect takes place in Cranham, a small English town, and weaves between the stories of 11-year-old Byron, dealing with the fall-out from the addition of two leap seconds to 1972, and Jim, a 50-year-old man in 2012, coping with his burdensome anxiety and lacking certainty in any corner of his life. “ Two seconds are huge. It’s the difference between something happening and something not happening,” Byron says early in the book and, inevitably, things do happen. Joyce’s characters are almost shockingly vulnerable as they face the consequences of small decisions – the trauma and disappointment travelling through the decades. Perfect is a darker read than Joyce’s debut, but her nuanced writing allows the heartbreak to open out into flowerings of trust. Per fect is heartwarming, heartfelt and likely to be just as loved as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. PIP NEWLING PERFECT RACHEL JOYCE **** When viewing a still-life painting, an appreciation for ornate composition helps bring to life an image that might otherwise appear static. Inga Simpson’s debut novel should be read a similar way. Not overly plot- driven, Mr Wigg foregrounds sensuous imagery to depict life on an orchard in 1970s New South Wales. The titular character, an ailing elderly man with a still active imagination, is struggling to accept his wife’s death and the inevitable sale of the family farm. He seeks solace in the fruits of his labour: the golden roundness of a peach, the fragrance of stewed quince. His radio is tuned to the cricket throughout the day, the sport’s slow-moving action in keeping with his own pace. His grandchildren visit, and he weaves tales that touch on the novel’s underlying themes: love, death and the changing of the seasons. Simpson is a beautiful writer but occasionally she spreads on the sentimentality a little too thick. Much like the slow food movement it lovingly illustrates, Mr Wigg won’t be to everyone’s tastes but those who savour its sweetness will be left craving more. EMILY LAIDLAW Books like The Local Wildlife by Robert Drewe – a collection of essays about the author’s life on the North Coast of New South Wales – are unusual. Writers usually feel compelled to have overarching contentions or governing narratives. Here, however, Drewe is happy to let what are ostensibly stylised diary entries – rendered in calm, well-proportioned sentences – stand on their own. The word ‘wildlife’ refers, in this case, not only to the flora and fauna of the North Coast, but also to the people Drewe meets there. And his objective is by no means purely documentary. Rather than simply noting the behaviour of the python, the tantric sex worker, the prison dentist and the camphor laurel tree, to name just a few of his subjects, Drewe records his own reactions in impressionistic detail. There’s something a bit daggy about some of Drewe’s reminiscences (a sort of Dad-joke sensibility), and at times the suggestion of an urban writer exoticising provincial life, but what holds The Local Wildlife together is a winning combination of good nature and sincerity. WILL HEYWARD M R WIGG INGA SIMPSON *** THE LOCAL WILDLIFE ROBERT DREWE *** books THUY ON > Books Editor EvEn though I have tried it a couple of times, I have never understood the attraction of reading on the beach. It just ends up being a futile exercise and after about half-a- dozen pages, I give up. there’s the squalling wind to contend with, the white glare and the disruptive squeals of toddlers. not to mention going home and discovering fine, sandy grains sprinkled between salt-sprayed pages. Even if you’re in one of those protective sun huts or beneath a massive umbrella, you still have to sit in some uncomfortable cross-legged position (unless you’ve remembered to drag along a foldable deckchair). There’s also something rather dismissive about the marketing of ‘beach books’: the publishers know that no one is going to have the concentration to read, say, a convoluted Russian family saga so most of the books released for warmer weather are light and breezy or a bumper anthology about the sea. No, reading for me is more an indoor activity best undertaken when the temperature drops to freezing. There’s nothing more alluring than finding a cosy space inside when there’s a gale beyond your walls and rain pelting on the windowpane. For optimum comfort, add a cushy armchair, an open fireplace, a cat on the lap and a cup of green tea. Far more civilised than being at the mercy of the elements. Plus you can gad about in your pyjamas instead of fretting about sunburn or sand in unexpected places.