Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 5, 2012

Sensational Snippets: Spirit of Progress (2011, Glenroy Series) by Steven Carroll

Spirit of ProgressI am reading Steven Carroll’s Spirit of Progress, longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin award, and just had to share this Sensational Snippet:

Vic is the train driver that readers have met before in Steven Carroll’s ‘Glenroy’ trilogy [1]. He is at Spencer Street Station [2], musing on the last lot of troops to return home after WW2.  It was a trick of fate that he had been recalled from enlistment to driving engines which was a reserved occupation; he might well have been among them at the Fall of Singapore.  He might well have spent his war as a Japanese POW too, where he might well have been one of the one-in-three to die.

Slowly, the crowd begins to thin.  Soldiers who still have that stick-figure look are led like children through the platform gate.  And, as they walk back into the world they left behind in another age altogether, the children take their damaged hands.  And so it begins, the process of passing the damage on.  For out there are the quiet suburbs to which they will return, where fathers will sob uncontrollably in their bedrooms, fly into sad violence without warning, or sit listening to jaunty songs about love discovered or sombre songs about love lost, or, when the time comes, be found lounging in front of television screens gazing upon quiz programs or American westerns about wagon trains and cavalry, all of which will be the face of this other, this post-war, world to which they returned but which they know, in that part of the mind that ticks over without thought, will never be their world because they don’t really have one any more.  And there will be a creeping feeling that this world, this age of Progress, didn’t, in the end, need them to exist any more; a creeping feeling that History had found them useful for a time and that those six sad and violent years were part of a larger process that was always moving forward to just such a moment.  And once the longed-for moment is reached, History continues, on and on, leaving those who were useful for a while to gaze upon these bright shiny new worlds with faintly puzzled eyes.

This will all unfold out there in the world to which they have returned: the sobbing, the violence without warning, the silence and the puzzled curiosity.  And all to the accompaniment of jaunty little songs about catching falling stars, coming from plastic radios in kitchens, lounge rooms and bedrooms, or wherever the damage takes itself to be alone in those quiet and unquiet suburbs.

( Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll, Harper Collins 4th Estate, 2011, p31-32)

There is something about the way these long, discursive sentences are constructed to lodge in the mind and provoke further thought, that is kind-of Proustian, I think…

More later, when I’ve finished reading it.

[1] The ‘Glenroy’ trilogy is so called because it is set in the northern suburbs of Melbourne but Glenroy is never named. It consists of The Art of the Engine Driver (2001) and The Gift of Speed (2004) (both shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award), and The Time We Have Taken, which won the award in 2008.

[2] a.ka. Southern Cross station, but not by anybody my age.

Fishpond: Spirit of Progress


  1. Loved this, as I did all of the trilogy :) Still hoping for another sequel, rather than a prequel though…


    • Oh, he can write about anything he likes, Tony, and I’ll still love it. I know this to be true because in The Gift Of Speed he wrote about my least favourite thing (sport) and I not only loved the book, I (almost) began to understand why cricket matters to some people. This is a man who can write a book called The Art of the Engine Driver and get away with it!


  2. […] Carroll, see my review of Spirit of Progress and a Sensational Snippet Brenda Niall, see my review of Mannix Christos Tsiolkas, see my review of The Slap and The […]


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