Great minds think alike they say, but really, it’s just coincidence that Sue at Whispering Gums has recently reviewed a short story by notable author, Paddy O’Reilly. Three weeks before Sue’s review went online, I picked up a copy of The Factory on the recommendation of Carrie Tiffany at an author event at my local library, and now that I’ve read it I can understand why she was keen for me to read it. It’s very good. Very good indeed.
An award-winning short story writer, O’Reilly has been widely published in all the significant Australian literary magazines including Meanjin, Southerly, Westerly and Island, and in anthologies such as Best Australian Short Stories 2004 and Best Australian Stories 2006. Her collection The End of the World was published by UQP in 2004 and is still in print. However The Factory, her first novel, tagged as one of the best books of 2005 in Australian Book Review and Highly Commended in the FAW Christina Stead Award for Fiction, seems to be out-of-print, so I’ll offer my apologies now if you have the frustrating experience of being unable to source a copy yourself. I can’t find anywhere online where it’s available, so you may have to hunt around libraries and second-hand sites like Brotherhood Books or AbeBooks (links are in my blogroll). Trust me, it will be worth it, and if Thompson Walker (Australian Scholarly Publishing) doesn’t want to reissue it, then some enterprising publisher should snaffle the rights ASAP. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been made into a film either…
It’s probably fair to say that most people are fascinated by the break-up of successful groups such the Beatles who went their separate ways at the height of their fame. Paddy O’Reilly has used this fascination as the premise for her character Hilda Moore to undertake research in Japan, finding out the truth of the break-up of Koba, a theatre group which resurrected the cultural heritage of Japan with song, dance and Noh theatre. In the 1970s, when Japan was a hotbed of dissent, the group was formed as a cooperative that valued traditional culture but within two years it fell apart after the death of one of its members. When twenty-odd years later the founder Yasuda founds a revival, Hilda sets off to investigate the individuals who were behind such events.
For her PhD, Hilda’s project is to interview the surviving members, and to offer her own interpretation of their narratives. Hilda is a quiet, submissive character who speaks Japanese fluently and is familiar with Japanese mores but she travels there with Eloise, a character so exuberant that we know she is destined to fail the conformity test from the outset. Paddy O’Reilly has apparently knows Japan well and she has used her familiarity with the country to depict Eloise’s blunders in a droll way without overdoing it.
However, it’s not Eloise who gets into major trouble. As we learn from the very first lines of the story, Hilda has landed up in a Japanese gaol, submitting to very severe discipline in a land where discipline and conformity is extreme by Australian standards anyway. No reason for her imprisonment is given, and this is not the only mystery unresolved until the last chapters of the book.
These opening lines lured me in straight away.
They took away all my research papers when I was arrested on the mountain in Japan. As the four policemen crowded into my cubicle, neatly piling up my reams of handwritten notes and packing my computer into my travelling case, I sat on the bed and started to tremble. (p 1)
There could be few things more scary than being arrested in a foreign country, especially one that doesn’t have the protections of the British judicial system.
Like Australian POWs during WW2, at risk of severe punishment, Hilda writes her story in secret, scribbling in the margins of the few books she is allowed to read. Gradually the pieces of the puzzle are revealed as she records her interviews with various members of the group, all of whom have different agendas and different versions of the truth to lead both Hilda and the reader up the garden path. To access these people Hilda has had to agree to Yasuda’s demand that she document the rebirth of the group, New Koba, and to do so she has to participate in its activities. It becomes increasingly difficult for her to distance herself from secrets, lies and betrayals past and present in a plot which is psychologically convincing and completely irresistible.
The Factory is a beautifully constructed story which enables the reader to piece suspicions together without compromising a climax which comes as a complete surprise.
Author: Paddy O’Reilly
Title: The Factory
Publisher: Thompson Walker, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005
Source: Kingston Library
Fishpond : The Factory Out of print, but you might be lucky and find a second-hand copy available.