This is going to have to be a rather skimpy review: The Fine Colour of Rust by P.A. (Paddy) O’Reilly is so popular that the library would only let me have it for a short time and so I had to scamper through it without taking my usual copious notes.
It’s easy to see why it’s so popular: it’s funny, it’s heart-warming and it’s quintessentially Australian. It’s the story of single-mum Loretta Boskovic who introduces herself like this:
‘Well, I’d better pick up the kids,’ I say. I don’t want to pick up the kids. I want to send them to an orphanage and buy myself a nice dress and learn to live the way I used to, before I turned into the old scrag I am now.’
Like Laura in the ABC TV series Bed of Roses Loretta has no money and a clapped-out car, and there’s likewise a Mr Fixit man in her life, but there the resemblances end. Norm owns the junk yard and while his dry humour and empathy make him a likeable character, a love interest he’s not. He’s too old and grubby. Loretta’s not very well-behaved children Jake and Melissa are still at primary school and very much underfoot, and she doesn’t live in an attractive growth-corridor town with prospects, she lives in a declining country town called Gunapan. She has an unglamorous part-time job that gets her down, and in her spare time is trying to rustle up participation in the campaign to save the local school from closure. This is rural realism with a comic twist and a tender heart.
A new mechanic called Merv wins her heart when he lends her a nice car while he fixes her windscreen, but alas, unlike Laura (played by sexy Kerry Armstrong) who somehow always managed to look gorgeous even when she was making a fool of herself…Loretta is fat. (She binges on Caramellos and biscuits). Her underwear is from the $2 shop and it’s seen better days. And it only takes the return of her worthless ex-husband (with bimbo in tow) to demolish what little self-confidence she has.
For Loretta ‘life is small and pinched and the sky seems vast and filled with a relentless glare‘ (p. 115) but she has determination and resilience and you know that while the disasters will keep coming, she will keep picking herself up and dusting herself off to give things another go. It’s that kind of book.
The theme of country battler v corrupt developers is a well-worn one, but quirky characters, a deft hand with the setting and wry humour bring the story alive. The Fine Colour of Rust shows the diversity of O’Reilly’s writing craft: it’s not a literary novel like The Factory* (published under the name Paddy O’Reilly) but it is fine writing and most enjoyable to read.
*See my enthusiastic review, I loved that book, it just so happens that I recommended it to a friend this very night!)
Author: P.A. Reilly
Title: The Fine Colour of Rust
Publisher: Blue Door (Harper Collins) 2012
Source: Kingston Library