George’s life consists of working in a bowling alley, staring wistfully at the tree where he and his ex shared their first kiss, keeping an eye on his grieving brother, and helping out his sad-but-ever-smiling Mum. George might be still focused on his ex, but easygoing Stacey provides a nice distraction, as they ‘practice’ being with other people – with each other. She helps him to feel safer at night, with dark memories of a midnight prowler still fresh in his mind. The Magda Szubanski dream sequences are surreal, beautiful, literary – her enveloping presence symbolises warmth, laughter, frivolity and sweetness. The tales of both George and his brother Matthew unfold in the narrative. The book is tragicomic, exploring the difficulties of communicating depths of feeling, and the ways we hold onto suffering. George’s first-person narration is honest, straightforward, often hilariously apt, and all too human. There are flashes of childhood moments that make or break a person’s innocence, and there is dealing with it all in the present, learning to let it pass through. This is an absorbing novel and obviously well deserved its Vogel win. It should appeal to most sensibilities, old and young. There’s some resemblance to Charlotte Wood or Alex Miller, with a little more youthful swagger.
See also my interview with Stefan Laszczuk.