- a bit repetitive, so longer than necessary
- a tough, painful, disturbing read, "a bit of an ordeal", particularly given we've already done novels about intergenerational First Nations trauma, and poverty and alcoholism, this year
- powerfully, beautifully, superbly written, including the writing about the mountain, nature and the landscape
- had faith that Laguna would leave us with hope, but this time it felt a bit thin
- liked that it put a human face on a child molester, showing that underneath there is often a suffering person who is damaged, but overall found it too much of a social messaging novel, and felt lectured at
- thought the art was boring and predictable
- thought the best parts were the children interacting at the beginning
- didn't believe the character or resolution
- was drawn in by the lovely depiction of childhood, really liked the use of the mountain to evoke Lawrence, and found it so sad, but was entranced
- found the characters, even minor ones, very well described
- found the fear, foreboding visceral at times
Naturally we focused a lot on what happened to Lawrence, how and why it happened, and how nothing was done for him after the event. We discussed the suggestion in the novel that his mother and uncle (Reggie) had been molested, and that Reggie told Lawrence not to tell his mother because it would destroy her. We also noted that Lawrence's mother had likened Lawrence to Reggie, describing them both as clever. One member wondered whether the mother had been molested by her brother (Reggie) when young, but the rest of us didn't see this. We noted that Paul had been less interested in Uncle from the start. After the event, he suspected something had happened, asking Lawrence "what did he do to you?", but the traumatised Lawrence refused to answer. This was heartbreaking, given he had done all he could to protect Paul from being abused similarly. All these and more affected why the situation played out the way it did.
We considered that one of the reasons Laguna set this novel in the past was that it was a time when there was less awareness of abuse and of its potential longterm impact. It enabled her to more authentically tell a story about someone who went under the radar.
We noted that Laguna quickly spans the years from 10 to 25, when the mother dies, and doesn't detail Lawrence's reaching puberty. Laguna uses various ideas to convey the effect of the trauma on Lawrence, one being his bowel-movement difficulty with visits to the outhouse being excruciating for him, and another being descriptions of his "two selves", which started at the time of the abuse:
I felt myself dividing; there were two selves to choose from. One inside, one outside. (p. 152/3)
Much later, when the final crisis comes, Lawrence reflects
One member suggested that, in some ways, 10-year-olds are the peak of human achievement. Expanding this, another member added that Lawrence reads in his art book that Constable had said he had seen all he needed to see for his paintings by the time he was 10 years old.
It was another moment on the way to the next, and I was both in it and outside of it. Yet was it not the same for all moments? One part engaged, another observing. Two selves. (p. 411)
We discussed the ending a little, but got a bit waylaid by one member saying she didn't believe it at all. This resulted in a good discussion about art and artistic talent, and about Lawrence's skills and what style we thought he painted in, but we didn't discuss other aspects of the ending.
We talked also little about Paul. Some felt he'd been an excellent brother, while others felt he had been too cursory in his care. We liked Mrs Barry, who had recognised that Lawrence behaved like the men who had come home from the war (ie. traumatised) but, of course, she didn't know why.
- Ten-year-old Lawrence would not say "f**k off" to his brother in 1953
- The scarecrow's face was coloured with a marker which members felt didn't exist then (According to Wikipedia they were around, but would they have been prevalent in rural Victoria at the time?)
- Reggie makes coffee which was not likely in a 1950s country home