Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 12, 2015

Last Day in the Dynamite Factory, by Annah Faulkner

Last Day at the Dynamite Factory

Last Day in the Dynamite Factory is an intriguing title, the book was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Literature and it’s the second novel of Annah Faulkner, who was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin for The Beloved.  That was an interesting debut novel set partly in New Guinea (see my review) and I liked the well-rounded characterisation of a person with a disability, so I added the book to the (a-hem) ‘small’ pile on a recent visit to my favourite local bookstore…

The book does itself no favours with its rather long-winded introduction.  Janine at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip got fed up with it and stopped reading, and as you can see from my somewhat impatient comment there, I was irritated by what seemed to be yet another insular ‘relationship’ novel, this time featuring a privileged white male having a mid-life identity crisis.

But…

I’m glad I pressed on.  While I still don’t understand the preoccupation with finding out family secrets (a preoccupation that featured in The Beloved too), the novel becomes more intricate and absorbing when conservation architect Christopher Bright begins to question his own life in the light of the epitaph on his mother’s grave:

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’
John 10:10.

Life. Abundantly.

Alice’s life: short but abundant – career, love and sacrifice, all lived to the hilt.  There’s nothing to regret about her life except its ending.  Chris can’t remember his mother’s face, the colour of her eyes or her smile.  He has no memory of her touch, her voice, or what she smelled like, but her life is in those words.  He presses his fingers to his lips and touches them to the cold marble.  He doesn’t want to leave her here.  He wants to take her from this place of the dead and carry her home in the pocket over his heart.  (p. 209)

Chris doesn’t have a ‘conversion on the road to Damascus’ that leads to a major redefinition of his values, but I enjoyed reading his struggle to sort out how he can be true to himself (another preoccupation that underlies The Beloved).  He’s a flawed human-being who does some very stupid and unkind things to his devoted but emotionally crippled wife, to his partner ‘Judge’ and his employee Tabi, and to Ben, a man with whom his relationship is clouded by past events, secrets and lies.   It was a pleasure to see Roberta (Bertie) – the child disabled by polio in The Beloved – recreated as an adult so comfortable in her own skin, and I also enjoyed the discussion around architectural issues.  Architecture is always good for stirring up strongly-held opinions and I think book groups would enjoy discussing whether heritage buildings should be conserved exactly as they were (What? even if they were poky, dark and had an outdoor loo?); should be reinterpreted to reference all the stages in the building’s history (Yikes, even the 1960s?)  or should be razed to the ground in favour of innovative and sustainable construction (Oh, no what about the streetscape!)

Annah Faulkner has a gift for evoking the landscape, even succeeding in making tawdry urbanised places seem attractive by focussing on the beauty that even the high rise apartments can’t destroy:

The following evening he stands on the balcony of his unit.  It’s cold but the view is distracting and distraction is what he seeks.  The river is as different as the ocean as whisky is from wine.  The sea hurls itself at mother earth with the insistence of a toddler; the river fingers her banks in silence.  Shadows creep over the foreshore and cross streets, snake between buildings and lick walls with black tongues.  The lights of Brisbane have swallowed the stars and overlaid the river with rippling, blinking neons.  Gay greens, brilliant blues and saucy reds dance across her inscrutable face.  (p.287)

The unspoiled beach block fantasy makes an appearance but Faulkner avoids a trite ending with enough ambiguity about the future of her characters to satisfy.  In fact, I’m going to make a cheeky prediction: I won’t be surprised if Phoebe, Chris Bright’s daughter who is also an architect, turns up in a novel to come…

Author: Annah Faulkner
Title: Last Day at the Dynamite Factory
Publisher: Picador, 2015
ISBN: 9781743535998
Source: personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh, $32.99

Availability

Fishpond: Last Day in the Dynamite Factory


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