Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book Review : The Broken Shore

The author of The Broken Shore , Peter Temple, was born in South Africa. Temple arrived in Sydney in 1980 and worked as a journalist, later moving to Melbourne to edit Australian Society magazine. He then turned to teaching playing an important role in establishing the prestigious Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT University. In 1995, he retired from teaching to became a self-employed editor and full-time writer.

I found his explanation, to Romana Koval, for leaving teaching interesting, it goes without saying that I did not make the same choice:

At the point in which you are old enough to be the father of your students you should leave the room immediately. It's not a good moment. ... Until that point arrives you see yourself as primus inter pares, just the leader of the pack, and after that you start seeing yourself as some sort of patriarchal figure. In other words, they're looking at you, 'This guy is as old as my dad,' and I found that quite disconcerting. So as soon as I became conscious of it I stopped.

Temple's previous books include: The Iron Rose, Shooting Star and In The Evil Day. He developed a character called Jack Irish who is a lawyer, gambler and private eye. The Jack Irish books are Bad Debts, Black Tide, Dead Point and White Dog.

I first became aware of Temple and this book when it was discussed on The First Tuesday Book Club on ABC Television.

Another ABC book show is Ramona Koval's Book Show on Radio National. Koval interviewed Peter Temple on the show and summarised the plot as follows:

The Broken Shore ... is set in a small coastal community which in summer is a holiday village and in winter reverts to its bare bones. This spells development money, old rivalries, small town intrigues, and a turf war. The poor Aboriginal community in the vicinity provides a background setting for racism, blame and breakouts of violence.

Into this mix walks Joe Cashin, who was born here but went away to become a city homicide cop. After an injury on the job, he is sent back to the town to be a country cop, to restore his family home and to walk his pair of poodles - and to listen to opera and read books by Conrad, Mailer and Truman Capote. Then a prominent local man is bashed and left for dead.

This is a crime novel, its hero is a detective and it does involve a crime. As well it won the UK Crime Writers Association's prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award, also known as the Gold Dagger, claiming £20,000 ($A47,400) in the process.

In winning the award Temple is in top company as previous winners include Patricia Cornwell, Dick Francis, Ian Rankin, John Le Carre and Ruth Rendell.

The Broken Shore transcends the genre though with its exploration of character and setting, and its beautiful descriptive writing. It is a literary work masquerading as a crime novel.

Temple's major aim with the novel was to set it in a small seaside town, with the central character returning after building a career in the city to find that all the rottenness of the city could be found in this small town where he grew up. This required a more complex evocation of the rural community that is usually found in crime novels. The following is taken from a longer description of the town, pp 58 - 60.

A fishing boat was coming in, heading for the entrance. ... Just six boats still fished out of Port Monro, bringing in crayfish and a few boxes of fish ...

He drove along two sides of the business block, past the two supermarkets, the three real-estate agents, three doctors, two law firms, the newsagent, the sports shop, the Shannon Hotel ...
In the late 1990, a city drug dealer and property developer had bought the boarded-up, gull-crapped Shannon. People still talked about a bar fight there in 1969 that needed two ambulaces from Cromarty to take the injured to hospital. ... The new owner spent more than two million dollars on the Shannon. Tradesmen took on apprentices, bought new utes, gave their wives new kitchens - the German appliances, the granite benchtops.
Winter setting in. He thought about summer, the town full of spoilt-rotten city children, their blond mothers, flabby fathers in boat shoes. ... The men sat in and outside the cafes, stood in the shops hands to heads, barking orders into their mobiles, pulling faces.

But the year had turned, May had come, the ice-water rain, the winds that scoured skin, and just the hardcore left - the unemployed, under-employed, unemployable, the drunk and doped, the old-age pensioners ...

Much of the book moves with the leisurely pace of literature. Temple deliberately inserted quiet moments into the book to "give it air". Often these quiet moments involve Cashin walking his dogs. He introduced the dogs in the first two paragraphs of the book"

CHASHIN WALKED around the hill, into the wind from the sea. It was cold, late autumn, last glowing leaves clinging to the liquidambers and maples his great-grandfather's brother had planted, their surrender close. He loved this time, the morning stillness, loved it more than spring.

The dogs were tiring now but still hunting the ground, noses down, taking more time to sniff, less hopeful. Then one picked up a scent and, new life in their legs, they loped for the trees, vanished.

Reading the book, it sometimes seemed like a sequel; that Cashin's injuries both physical and psychic had been chronicled in a previous book. He does mention Rai Saris a number of times before describing how his injuries were caused in a surveillance of Saris the violent criminal. We have to wait until page 192 for this information. Temple leaves material out and the reader has to fill in the gaps; the story has no beginning or end, the author just chooses an arbitrary point to start. Another way of putting it is that the book describes as Marieke Hardy noted on First Tuesday Book Club,a pocket of time.

Related to this method is that there are loose ends not 'tied up with a bow' at the conclusion of the book. There is something artificial in stories where all mysteries are resolved. A few years ago we saw the film Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray. Nothing is resolved in that film but that leaves plenty to discuss and ponder after the film is finished. The loose ends in The Broken Shore give a sense of reality to the story. There might be a sequel to this book in the offing which might through light on some of the mysteries. There have been suggestions on some websites that Temple is writing a book with some of the characters from The Broken Shore though it seems not Cashin.

In the interview with Koval Temple discussed his approach to writing the book. He said that he started by 'taking it out for a walk'. As he explained:

When I say 'take it for a walk' it's the way of getting things started. As it develops its own momentum, I'm forced to backtrack always and to go back and tidy things up and do things again. At the end I'm forced to go back and see, to my own satisfaction, that it doesn't look as if it's been taken for a walk. I want it to have cohesion and I want it to have continuity and I want the narrative to drag the reader along if possible, but it's possible to do those things in retrospect, as it were, to go back and have another stab at it. But it's about just getting the vehicle moving for me, and that I have to do in a blundering and blindfolded way. The plot will reveal itself if you nag at it long enough.

I really enjoyed this book and thoroughly recommend it

No comments: