David Metzenthen (author)
Penguin Books, Australia: 2003; 292pp
Genres: realistic fiction, historical fiction
Issues: friendship, relationships, war
CBCA Honour Book, Older Readers, 2004.
Henry Lyon is on his way to meet his mates for a short holiday of sail-boarding, lounging around on the beach and hanging out with his girlfriend, Marcelle. His peaceful drive up the south coast of NSW is interrupted when his mother's faithful Volvo station wagon breaks down and Henry is stranded in the small country town of Strattford for a few days.
He is rescued and then befriended by Graham Trotter and his girlfriend, Justine, and discovers that there is more to this country town than just a pub and a garage. Not that Henry is a snob. In fact he is a rather unusual young man. He is interested in the world around him. He has imagination. He likes people and people like him. And he listens. Trot and Justine introduce him to the feisty Cecilia Hainsworth who allows him to read the diary of Andy Lansell, her fiance who was killed in 1918 during the First World War - and their lives cross.
Henry has just finished high school and is about to study Law. Andy was about the same age and on his way to confront the horrors of war. ‘The Great War, the English papers were calling it; and the idea that Andy was forming of it was something huge and black, something endlessly and massively churning like monster threshing machines dragging back and forth over destroyed ground, throwing up smoke, fire, bodies and earth...' (p73)
Both Henry and Andy are quiet, hard-working, good-natured young men. Both find themselves caught between two women. Both have responsibilities to bear. Both are astonished at how easy it is to die.
Metzenthen's writing is concise, almost bare in its phrasing, yet maintains an almost lyrical beauty that, like art, lies in the unstated. The use of two very similar characters in two very different settings, some eighty years apart, is extremely effective as it enables the reader to relate more easily to an event that could otherwise be so easily lost between the pages of a history book. Thought-provoking, strongly imagined and powerfully written, this is a remarkable novel.
Warning: death of key characters
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