Our young narrator sneaks from her house at night to play with, drive and sabotage the cars that come to Father Man for repair. She is playing a game where she doesn’t speak and this goes mostly unnoticed. She is sneaky, escaping from her reality when she can.
I found this a hard book to read. I struggled with the voice of the main character and found myself re-reading passages to try to place them within the world, and to discover the truth which, through the unreliable narrator, was often hidden. I love an unreliable narrator, and it was extremely effective telling this story, because some truths don’t want to be told. However, I struggled to get past the description of the fat woman next door. If it was just that she was fat, that would be fine. But it was the way the word fat was used to convey value, moral judgement. This woman wasn’t fat and horrible, or fat and lazy, or fat and whatever, it was that the fact that she was fat made her bad, which sucks. Swap fat out for short and you start to see what I mean. Our society tells us that fat is bad, and for all of us who grew up fat and felt like lesser people for it, reading something like this really hurts. I understand that this is how the character is viewing things, but that doesn’t make it seem any less hurtful. These descriptions ruined the book for me, to the point where I can’t tell if I would have appreciated the book were they not in it.
Harry is a dairy farmer with a keen sense of observation. He watches his animals and his farm, the birds on his land and his neighbour, single mother Betty. Over years, he and Betty develop a quiet relationship, with Harry finding a place in the kitchen for meals and Betty’s son helping Harry with the milking. But as the boy moves in adolescence, Harry feels the need to provide fatherly advice in whatever limited manner that he can.
There is something about awkward relationships that I love in books. When a situation potentially has a simple solution, but the characters are so well drawn and flawed that there is no chance they can get there. It is frustrating, but only because I wanted to step in and fix the problem because I really cared for them. Then there are the other characters who we just get a glimpse of, but that leave a deep impression. And, of course, the character that gently dominates the book – the Australian countryside and the animals that inhabit it. Such beautiful writing that takes me away from the city and into another world and another time.
Australia, 1934. Jean Finnegan is a quiet young woman who has taken a post on the ‘Better Farming Train’ – a train that travels around rural areas presenting information for those in these areas. When the men attend talks on grain and animals, the women learn about sewing, cooking and child rearing. Over months, Jean finds herself with two male admirers; the mysterious Japanese chicken sexer, Mr Ohno, and the odd grain and soil expert, Robert Pettergree. She marries Robert and set up their own farm, where he experiments with his theories on grain production. Both discover things do not always go to plan.
Tiffany’s writing is beautiful and to be savoured. Throughout the novel, she builds up a tension in Finnegan that is subtle yet all-consuming, and I just wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her that she had other choices, other options. For me, this is what fiction is all about; getting caught up in the life of a character and wanting to be involved.
Tiffany won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript for Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. It won a number of awards and was shortlisted for both the Miles Franklin Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction.