Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 24, 2018

The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins #BookReview

I’m away on holiday on Norfolk Island where the internet is slow and patchy, so this must be a brief review of this very fine book.

The Everlasting Sunday is the debut novel of Melbourne author Robert Lukin who has previously been published in the usual Australian literary magazines – but the novel is British to its freezing winter bootstraps.  It is set in 1962 during an epic winter storm in the north, and the cold gets into the bones as only a British winter can.  (I remember it from my childhood.  Vividly).

17-year-old Radford is sent to Goodwin Manor from London, for some reason unspecified except that he has been ‘found by trouble’.  Diffident, lonely and angry in a subterranean way, Radford is also suicidal, but the low-key anti-authoritarian approach of the administrator Edward ‘Teddy’ Wilson offers a kind of balm, albeit a tentative one because all the other boys have been ‘found by trouble’ too.

There are no rules at the Manor, only customs of the laissez-faire variety, and lessons such as they are, are laid back too.  They are rather like those of the 1970s in progressive schools where children turned up at lessons if and when they felt like it, relying on the skill of remarkable teachers to entice and maintain attendance.  Radford (who is bright) goes to some classes but not many, chiefly only engaged by lessons in electronics taught by an unremarkable teacher called Manny.

But school is the least important aspect of Radford’s life at the Manor.  Nobody tells him anything about how things work, no-one ever explains anything, and no answer is ever direct and unambiguous.  Nevertheless he achieves a satisfactory acceptance, and a friendship emerges with the charismatic West.  Though Teddy’s main objective is to keep the boys alive, they are mostly unsupervised, larking about in various freezing covert places on site with contraband booze and cigarettes.  Not all of these boys are benign.

The tension rises as the Manor becomes snowed in.  This freeze is no joke.  Food supplies dwindle and Britain shuts down, with transport paralysed and commerce in a state of siege.  The Manor seems not to have made provision for such an eventuality and perilous journeys must be made by horse and cart to replenish the larder.  Each time the lads go out into the snow for more foolishness driven by the frustrations of being confined indoors, there is a sense that one or more of them may not return.  But the crisis when it comes is unexpected and savage.

Lukins writes a brutal story in exquisite poetic prose.  His imagery, drawn from an icy palette and a crumbling mansion, is startling, and the dialogue is superb, masterful in its depiction of the way adolescent boys say so little but mean much more.  This is a scene in the in the aftermath of Snuffy’s return from prison, along with a girl called Victoria.

Radford and West had broken away to the belfry, and for three cigarettes they took seat of their thrones.  Snuffy had in one way or another been the dominating topic of conversation since the morning of his arrival, but a change had come in the previous twenty-four hours.  All had flipped and it seemed the boys were trying to last the longest without breathing his name.

‘Snuffy.  How old is he? Radford asked, bowing out of the competition.

‘Twenty-two.’

They nodded, in quiet reverence to this.

‘Are you in love with Victoria yet?’

Radford waved the notion away too vigorously.

‘You should be, if you’re not,’ West said.

‘In love?’

‘Of course.’

It was a clumsy thought that had occurred to Radford more than once.  He wondered if it could be accurate.  How pathetic that would be.  How obvious.

What would it mean if I was?’

‘Nothing at all,’ West said.

‘I haven’t admitted to this.’

‘I thought it might be something you wanted to talk about.’  West gestured for the matchbook. ‘Love is something people want to endlessly discuss, to speak like they might be in a film.’  He paused, putting weight on one knee and mimicking a matinee idol.  ‘I prefer to smoke, it being one of life’s elementary pleasures. No courtship. No having to reason with the thing or earn its respect….’ (p.92)

You can read an interview with the author at Amanda Curtin’s blog.

Author: Robert Lukin
Title: The Everlasting Sunday
Publisher:  UQP (University of Queensland Press, 2018)
ISBN: 9780702260056
Source: Kingston Library

 

 


Responses

  1. This sounds like a perfect summer read! I have a few of these “more conventional” (for me) novels stacked up including this one which just came out here. Robert is one of my many Aussie literary Twitter friends, so I am looking forward to it.

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  2. Many shortlists coming up for this one, I think :-)

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  3. Good dialogue hard to do – and I remember that winter too Lisa – it was the last from my childhood in Scotland before we emigrated. Hope you’re enjoying Norfolk island – another place on my bucket list, which is actually so long I’d need more than one bucket:)

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  4. I can’t imagine a record breaking English, let alone Scottish, winters. Right now I’m struggling with Victorian nights, I think WA has made me soft.

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    • Ha ha, we save up the really bad weather for visitors from warmer climes *wink*

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  5. […] The Everlasting Sunday thanks to Amanda Curtin’s blog, and because I liked the book so much, (see my review) I asked Robert if he’d agree to be featured on Meet an Aussie […]

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