Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 8, 2014

The Break, by Deb Fitzpatrick #BookReview

the-breakI have mixed feelings about The Break, by Deb Fitzpatrick.  The characterisation is really good, the story lures the reader in, the setting is well-realised and some of the lyrical writing is exquisite.   I thought, however, that the novel laboured a bit to reach its climax, and then it felt as if the author couldn’t quite deal with the tragedy that unfolds.  This may have been because the plot derives from a natural disaster that actually happened  – there can sometimes be a sense of trespass when writing about events still raw in public memory.  This novel is also Deb Fitzpatrick’s first venture into adult fiction and she perhaps has not quite achieved the transition: she’s a well-established author of YA books, which include The Amazing Spencer Gray (2013), Have you seen Ally Queen? (2011) and 90 packets of instant noodles (2010).  

The story revolves around two families living in the beautiful Margaret River region of Western Australia.  A disillusioned journalist called Rosie and a FIFO mineworker called Cray chuck in their jobs to pursue a more meaningful lifestyle in Margaret River; while Liza and Ferg are farming the land of Ferg’s forefathers.  Along with Ferg’s recently widowed mother, Liza and Ferg have a school-age son Sam (holding together their rather creaky marriage), and also a brother in drug-rehab who joins them, acting as a catalyst for long-held resentments.  So it’s an interesting cast of characters, delivering multiple intergenerational points-of-view.  The dynamics between them all makes for interesting reading, but it’s not until the aftermath of the tragedy that these two families actually meet …

The novel explores the experience of settling in and adapting to a rural lifestyle in contrast with the feeling of being trapped into living a parent’s expectations rather than following one’s own.  Conflicts and doubts are often unspoken,  and the boy’s awareness of his parents’ crumbling marriage is touching to read.  The novel also dabbles with the well-worn theme of development v. environment and the council that is insensitive to the wishes of the local community, and the fragility of the environment is mirrored in the fragility of the human relationships under scrutiny.

Having been to the Margaret River (as one of the tourists that irritate the local ‘Margies’), I can vouch for the contention that it’s one of the most beautiful places in Western Australia.  This little snippet reminded me of the beautiful books of botanical art that I have reviewed on this site:

That things – survive – indeed, sometimes thrive – on these dry, smoothed yellows of the sand dunes is remarkable.  Arms of succulent groundcover reach and grip.  Eventually, waxy magenta flowers open into sandy gusts; insects hide in the calm of the plants’ tiny places.

Out here you either resist or succumb to the rushing sand.

A woman in a sarong stands in the fuzzy distance on the beach.  She leans lightly into the wind, her weight perfectly balanced, as if the wind were a waiting cocoon, as if she might fall into it and never get up. (p. 54)

In contrast with the lyrical evocations of the natural environment between chapters which anchor the novel to its place, the dialogue is crisp and contemporary:

Rosie suddenly wished that she’d worn her work clothes rather than shirt and jeans; the woman wore shoulder pads like a weapon, despite the eighties being long gone.  The office was quiet, and a secretary hid behind a computer monitor.

With Cray standing beside her, Rose gathered herself, raised her own eyebrows in return and said, firmly but politely, ‘We’re looking for a place to rent.  Long-term.  Under one-fifty a week.’

Under one-fifty…’

Rosie shifted her feet on the slate floor.  Yes, under.  ‘It doesn’t have to be in the middle of town, we’re not worried about that.’

‘Are you working?’

Rosie’s heart sank.  Her eyes faltered, but she held the woman’s look.  She couldn’t think of the right thing to say to that.

Cray’s voice came into the silence.  ‘We’re not, yet.  But if it gives you any piece of mind, we have plenty of savings and good references from our last place.’  Cray passed her an envelope containing a glowing reference from their Freo landlords, and gave her a moment to peruse it.  (p. 77)

Rosie sometimes self-sabotages her rebellious attitudes with this faltering confidence: she is scornful about people who conform and she’s high-minded about the excesses of tabloid journalism, but she isn’t quite comfortable with the identity that she thinks she wants to have.  It’s this ambivalence that defines her character as a somewhat immature twenty-something not quite sure of herself, and to my mind positions the novel more towards YA than adult fiction.

I’d be interested to know what other readers think…

There are teaching notes and book club notes at Fremantle Press.

Author: Deb Fitzpatrick
Title: The Break
Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781922089632
Source: Review copy courtesy of Fremantle Press

Availability

Fishpond:  The Break


Responses

  1. I’d be willing to give it a chance based just on the setting.

    • Oh, it’s worth more than a chance. There’s a lot to like about this book, and I hope I made that clear.


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