Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 17, 2016

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by Mandy Sayer

the-night-has-a-thousand-eyes

It’s a while since I reviewed The Australian Long Story edited by Mandy Sayer, and I’d never read her fiction, so it was good to chance upon The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (2007) at the library.  A slim novella at 159 pages, it bridges a space between adult fiction and YA, but although the sex is offstage it would be a brave school that listed it for required reading since there’s plenty of strong language…

It’s a very well-written road journey with familiar themes.  The teenage narrator Mark Stamp, his sister Ruby and the unnamed baby form a distorted kind of holy trinity as they flee from a very troubled home in a dreary country town when Mark finds his mother’s body.  With no money and only a vague idea of getting help from some dubious relations, they set off for the coast  with their father Roy in hot pursuit.  Like a monster in a horror movie, he keeps surfacing as if indestructible.  No sooner do the young people think they’ve shaken him off, than his old Fairlane shows up in the rear vision mirror.

And he’s a very nasty piece of work.  There’s no redemption for this character, none at all.  He’s been the constant subject of gossip in town for the mystery of how he came to lose his leg and there’s no shortage of storytellers with a grudge against him.  But his children don’t consider getting help from the authorities: Mark has already spent time in foster care and doesn’t want the family split up again, and since (like the other kids in town) both Mark and Ruby are experienced shoplifters and vandals, they can’t expect a sympathetic ear from the police.

(Or so they think.  They are wise to the police ignoring domestic violence, but even the most idle of country police would presumably get their act together when there’s been a murder, if for the excitement, if nothing else?)

Anyway, Ruby and Mark speed across a network of small and unhelpful towns, putting their survival skills to good use, with a combination of theft, shoplifting, and cunning.  The baby is surprisingly amenable to a peculiar diet and shows some of the indestructability of her father.  But Ruby, older and more street-smart than Mark and mostly the subject of his reluctant admiration, falls for a strange young street-performer who adds to the sense of risk when he joins the trio and displaces Mark from his place beside Ruby on the passenger seat.

It is this construction of kids-without-interfering-adults in an uncaring world that marks the novel as Young Adult, along with the doubts and insecurities of its teenage narrator.  Sayer depicts this boy with an interior monologue showing him to be articulate about his own feelings but reticent about expressing them.  He’s been a bit slow to join-the-dots about what’s been going on, but eventually he is propelled into an adult world whether he’s ready for it or not.

I was a bit surprised by the tidiness of the ending.  The novel is a compelling read: the suspense is really well-crafted and the dialogue has an authenticity that works really well.  And then in the space of three pages everything is too-neatly packed away into a resume.  Some readers won’t care about this because the book is about the ride not the destination, but others may find it unsatisfying.

Fiona Gruber reviewed it at The Age. 

Author: Mandy Sayer
Title: The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins) 2007
ISBN: 9780732286019
Source: Kingston Library

Out of print, try your library or Brotherhood Books.


Responses

  1. It is a familiar trope, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I wonder though how once the Fairlane was in the rear-view mirror you would get rid of it – not many traffic lights in country towns! Of course, in an American movie The pursuing car would ram the pursued car which in real life would destroy its radiator and then they could escape.

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    • LOL In real life some bored policeman would catch one or both of them barrelling through his town and book ’em for speeding!

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      • I had a country policeman once chase my road train on foot, for not slowing down enough in his little town. Caught me too!

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        • That is a good story… that’s got to go into your memoirs!

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  2. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this book. Obviously, sounds right up my alley, and the perfect vehicle for Sayer. I’ve read her memoirs and they are really powerful.

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    • Yes, I can see from her writing in this one that she is really skilled at building tension and evoking the landscape. I’m going to look out for the memoirs.

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  3. I haven’t read Mandy Sayer at all yet, but would like to start with her memoirs. Sounds like, as I suspect, her writing ability is good, but that this is not perhaps the best start.

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    • Me too, her bio shows that she’s a really interesting person so I expect her memoirs would be fascinating.

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      • Exactly! And you’ll probably get there before I do!

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        • I don’t know about that< I am trying a bit harder to read more of my own TBR so I have to make 'room' for extra books, so to speak…

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          • Has the decluttering bug got to you too!? ;-)

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            • *chuckle* Oh no, there’s no sign of that at my place. No, it’s just that when the number of books exceeds the space allotted to them in my library TBR shelves, I have to have a bit of a purge until they are back in order. At the moment I can’t get to my M shelf because O,P,R and S have expanded onto the space in front of the Ms, so they need to be brought into line…

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  4. This would for sure go immediately on the ‘ban this book’ list in many US states…
    Whose baby is it by the way – i cant work that out

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    • Oh, the US Banned Book List, madness, absolute madness…
      The baby? It’s the boy’s sister, and he really loves her, it’s a beautiful rendition of a teenage boy being tender and doing the nurturing.

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      • I am so glad I don’t live in a country where there is so much pressure on libraries and schools to deny people access to reading material

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        • Yes, well, we can see the impact on clear thinking in the current election campaign….

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          • don’t get me started on the American election – I roll eyes and start shouting at the tv screen every time a certain male candidate opens his big mouth

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            • It will be interesting to see what The Rest of the World will do if he wins. Will we maintain our disdain?

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