Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 17, 2018

A Stolen Season, by Rodney Hall #BookReview

What I’ve always loved about Rodney Hall AM is that he’s a writer of social conscience.  If you check out his Twitter feed @rhallwriter you can see that he cares passionately about social issues and he turns that concern into books that are invariably very good to read even when they expose difficult truths that we’d rather not confront.  A Stolen Season is no exception.

For most of the novel it seems as if there are three separate stories, all focussing on how people resurrect some control in their meaningless lives when fate gives them the opportunity. The main characters are:

  • Adam, a grievously wounded Iraq veteran, and his wife Bridget, and how they struggle to come to terms with what’s happened.  Their marriage was dead when he enlisted and now Bridget is trapped in the role of carer.  Adam is riddled with guilt about that, knowing that he should let her have her freedom, but afraid to let her go.  The intricacies of this fraught relationship are brilliantly depicted and very thought-provoking.  For both of them, the question is, what could make life worth living;
  • Marion Gluck, a wealthy woman on the run because of her husband’s perfidy.  She attempts to take control of her life again by pursuing a bizarre quest in remote Belize in South America; and
  • John Philip, a very rich man at the end of a long and powerful dynasty, who finds a way to use a bequest in a way that shows his contempt for the values of his family.

These threads do all come together at the end, but I think most readers will focus on the tragedy of Adam and Bridget’s lives because it is utterly compelling, and because it forms the bulk of the story.  (I completely forgot about Marian until she resurfaced near the end of the book and to be honest, I think the book could have done without these side stories, though there would have to be a bit of plot-tweaking to get rid of them).

Anyway…

As the book progresses Hall reveals the full extent of Adam’s injuries from the explosion in Iraq but the detail is delivered in Adam’s flip tone, which lightens the horror a little:

Ogling reporters descend, eager to secure his ordeal as public property.  The only way out is up.  Declared fit for discharge he finds himself winched like some treasured relic to take his place in a museum of the grotesque.  Spectators lean so close a man can’t breathe in the enveloping depth of their amazement.  Crowded out by the humorous intimacy of noses – pitted with pixilated pores and thrust his way – he would laugh if he could.  But instead of lungs he has these red hot pincers.  He’ll have to put off seeing the bright side till later.  (p.6)

And then…

Adam’s first glimpse of Bridget coincides with her first sight of him.  The door to the airbridge opens just long enough for a shock of recognition on both sides.  His wheelchair glides though an arc of light bent to the curve of the slab-glass walls, but he has already seen her face contorted with horror as she hides her feelings against her shoulder.  Meanwhile the pilot and first officer insist on thanking him for flying with them.  Courtesies must be observed and they shake hands with his remaining fingers.  This gives Bridget just enough time to collect her courage so, when the chair spins his vision in reverse through the same dazzling reflections, she composes herself and steps his way. (p.6-7)

Adam is a quadriplegic, with burn and skin graft scars, amputated digits, and damage to his internal organs.  His face is grotesque, he is deaf in one ear, and he has difficulty talking because of his ruined mouth.  He has to be fed with a spoon and submit to other indignities.  He is in constant pain.

For reasons not explained to either Adam or Bridget, she was notified of his death but not of his resurrection under the care of the military surgeons.  Tacked-together again, he has been flown back to his home in Melbourne as a paragon and an example. For reasons of their own, Rehab provides him with some top of the line equipment to help with mobility.  It’s a CSAAD, a prototype bionic exoskeleton called a Custom Support and Articulation Assistance Device.

In the Notes and Acknowledgements at the back of the book, Hall explains that when he was writing the first draft he got the idea of an exoskeleton for Adam that could be operated by signals from the brain.  I got as far as the idea of an electrode attached to his skull, he says. And then in 2016 the scientists at the Florey Institute in Melbourne announced a breakthrough, using a stent implanted in a blood vessel adjacent to the brain, connected to a wireless transmitter in the chest enabling the exoskeleton to work as a bionic spine.   Lest readers think that this was a case of life imitating art, Hall acknowledges that it was their research not his invention…

This video (which ironically also celebrates the use of exoskeletons for military purposes) shows you at 1.44 how mind-controlled exoskeletons could work and at 1:49 how the ones currently developed can enable paraplegics to walk.  (I had seen a video of something similar in the media so I was able to imagine the contraption and how Adam could use it to move around the house).

What Adam doesn’t know is that Bridget had packed her bags as soon as she knew he was coming home.  They stand ready and unseen in the room upstairs. 

How can she help it?  Bridget feels imprisoned.  She goes over and over the same worn-out protest.  Ceaseless questions and self-accusations.  All with no answers.  She could have got out.  And she should have got out.  Why did she continue to live alone here in this same house?  Why did she never divorce him?  He had dumped her, setting off to fight John Howard’s war, which at least left her free to make a move of her own.  She never expected to be with him again.

[…]

So now she must make the best of a bad job.  Maybe his survival had to be kept secret for some military reason, who knows?  Whatever.  Here he is: Adam, publicly returned to her – still amazingly full of high spirits – as a lifelong invalid.  He has become prodigious.  His necessary routine, like an invisible vampire, sucks the energy from her.  What can be done?  She’s to blame for her feelings.  Bridget bears the unbearable.  Sick at heart and worn out with weeping, she’s too young for this.  Upstairs (in such privacy as she has there), she clenches her gut. She promises herself she can leave … and she will.  There’s nothing to stop her walking out.  Except the freedom to do so.  This is what makes the possibility impossible.

He is her monstrosity, hers and hers alone.  (p.15)

But don’t let me give you the wrong impression.  This book is not a misery.  Adam is a smart and funny guy with a wicked wit, and Hall has captured the classic laconic Aussie personality brilliantly.  Bridget has her lively moments too though I’m not going to surrender any spoilers.  There is also Hall’s acerbic political commentary – because as you will have guessed from the above, he was not in favour of the war in Iraq and his character Adam has certainly come to the conclusion that he is not the only one to have suffered terribly as a result of the lies about WMDs.  There is a splendid scene where those who wanted to exploit him for their own propaganda purposes get their comeuppance, though in the end there is no doubt about where power really lies.

I’ve got five books by Rodney Hall on my TBR, notably Just Relations which won the Miles Franklin in 1982, and The Grisly Wife which won it in 1994.  I had promised myself that I would read the other two in his Yandilli Trilogy this year before I read anything else because I was really impressed by Book 1 which was The Second Bridegroom.  But then A Stolen Season was released in March and it was irresistible…

PS Find out more about Rodney Hall at Meet an Aussie Author.

Author: Rodney Hall
Title: A Stolen Season
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, 2018
ISBN: 9781760555443
Source: Bayside Library

Available from Fishpond: A Stolen Season

 


Responses

  1. This sounds excellent. Not excellent is that tweet at the start of the post…. ☹️

    • You mean this one that Rodney retweeted? https://twitter.com/Loud_Lass/status/995803453032038400 – I agree!

      • Yes!

        • If those figures are correct, they are indeed appalling.
          I would never complain about the food at my father’s aged care residence: I used to join him for lunch sometimes if I was there at that time of the day and it was always well cooked, attractive and nutritious and there was good variety for residents to choose from. But my father was a self-funded retiree and Arcare was a 5-star residence so they were not having to stay within a budget of $6.00 a day. Where my MIL is at Karinya, they even have a glass of wine with their main meal:)
          However I know from visiting other elderly folk in other places that when they have nothing but the pension, that it’s a very different story. With one friend, her family routinely brought in food from home: fresh fruit, yoghurt and sandwiches, and treats as well, of course. But for the many who have no family or friends to care, well, it’s out of sight, out of mind, and we as a society should be ashamed.
          Because, as you know, quite apart from nourishing food being essential for good health, when people get older and there’s not much joy left in life, having nice food that’s appealing to the senses is one of the few pleasures left.

          • Food does become central – because it nourishes, makes us feel good but also because it’s social. My Nan and Papa were always well fed but they were in good places.
            I was talking to a friend who works in aged care and he was saying how important it was to maintain lifestyle decision like having a glass of wine with dinner – if they were in their own home, they’d have wine but in a care environment they’re often not allowed. As we know from our dementia course, the focus needs to be on the person, not principle/ medically driven.

            • Yes, and sometimes it’s good to start something new:) My father ate sensibly all his life so cakes were a once-a-week affair (if that), but I used to bake cakes to take in each day, and he loved it. Not just because it was a symbol of love, but because it triggered memories of food baked by someone he’d loved. I think this is why in aged care they often cook traditional foods that seem old fashioned now. I remember my dad and I had a lovely conversation one day when there was rice pudding and we talked about family meals and how we used to squabble over who got the skin:)
              (Mind you, I have a lovely recipe for rice pud made with blood oranges and orange blossom water that ain’t old-fashioned at all!)

  2. I’ve read two by Hall – Just relations and The day we had Hitler home – but haven’t read anything for a while. I caught the tail-end of an interview with him last week and he sounds just so real. I must read more. He’s rather under-rated I think.

    BTW I thought he lived on the south coast of NSW but it sounds like he lives in Melbourne (at least he lives there now)?

    • I’ll have a search for the interview, was it on RN?
      You might be right about NSW: I had him listed as an author from Victoria and I’ve seen him at events down here, but of course authors can move around… I borrowed this one from the library so there’s no blurb with a bio to enlighten me.

  3. […] Hall’s most recent novel A Stolen Season (2018) traverses similar territory (see my review) but Hall’s central character Adam is catastrophically wounded and the focus of the novel is […]


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