Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 19, 2022

The Restorer, by Michael Sala

Newcastle author Michael Sala made a splash with his debut novel The Last Thread (Affirm Press, 2012).  It won the NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing 2013, and the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Pacific Region in the same year.  That success was followed by The Restorer (Text Publishing, 2017), which in 2018 was longlisted for the Miles Franklin, and nominated for both the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, and the ABIA Small Publishers Book Award.  The novel is a tense portrait of a dysfunctional family…

The book is set in 1989.  That was the year when the Berlin Wall crumpled under the onslaught from ordinary people; when the Chinese pro-democracy movement was crushed in the massacre in Tiananmen Square; and when the Newcastle earthquake killed thirteen people, hospitalised 160, and made 1000 people homeless. Allusions in the novel to these tectonic events suggest the complexities of ‘restoration’: East and West Germany were subsequently restored to unity with some fractures remaining even now; the Chinese government restored a widely condemned and uneasy order in China over the bodies of the protestors; and the earthquake created the imperative for restoration even though things could never be the same, not least for the injured and bereaved.

Sala’s novel mirrors these events. Maryanne tries to ‘restore’ her family, to bring them back together after separation but she finds that their shared history doesn’t mean they have enough in common to thrive.  Her authoritarian husband Roy tolerates no dissension and enforces his will with violence; and efforts to restore the family to its earlier days cannot make things the way they were.

The story is told through three voices: Maryanne, vacillating between standing up to her husband and letting her love for him take precedence; her daughter Freya whose coming-of-age is marred by the constant conflict at home and her own risk-taking behaviour; and — bookending the novel — Richard, a gay neighbour, who performs the role of the bystander who defers intervention until its too late. It’s relevant that he’s gay because it demonstrates Roy’s ridiculous jealousy and inability to trust his wife.

There’s little backstory to explain why Roy is as he is, but the scenes featuring teenage boys and their sense of entitlement are an indication of how misogyny is reinforced by the prevailing culture.  There’s a teacher who tries her best to intervene, but most of their worst behaviours do, of course, take place out of sight, and anyway, she’s powerless. These boys appraise the girls’ bodies, they objectify them as sexual beings available for their use, and make insulting remarks and humiliate the girls as a way of establishing their own status among the other boys.  This characterisation is a vivid portrait of the way Roy’s hyper-masculinity has been formed.

Newcastle, or the part of it depicted in the novel, is shown to be the kind of place that predetermines fate by postcode.  It’s not just that the teachers have the hopeless task of trying to engage students with no ambition except to leave school, it’s also that shoplifting, drug use and alcohol abuse are routine.  Suicide and murder are not uncommon either, and these elements heighten the tense atmosphere and the sense that a violent conclusion is inevitable.

The book was published five years ago, but its relevance to issues of domestic violence is just as relevant today.

Author: Michael Sala
Title: The Restorer
Cover design by Sandy Cull, gogo Gingko
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9781925355024, pbk., 342 pages
Source: Personal library, OpShopFind $3.00

 


Responses

  1. For a minute there I thought you meant an earthquake in Newcastle in the NE of England and was wondering why I’d never heard of it before…

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    • LOL I do that when I hear Americans talking about Melbourne!
      The estate I live in here in Melbourne harvested the names of our streets from the Cotswolds: Evesham, Swinden, Cobham, Wallingford etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The estate I live in harvested its street names from your side of Melbourne – Orrong, Armadale, Toorak, St Kilda (where I met Milly). Sala sounds like a novelist worth keeping up with.

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    • Wouldn’t it be nice if we started a program of renaming everything with a distinctive Indigenous name….
      BTW Sue reviewed Sala’s first novel… and his website says he’s working on a spec fic novel!

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      • I think they’re doing a lot of this with public spaces in Fremantle… Kings Square is now Walyalup Koort. They have updated all the street signs; now someone needs to let Google Maps know!

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  3. I remember buying this when it was shortlisted for the MF but never actually got around to reading and have no idea what happened to my copy. Perhaps it’s in one of the boxes getting ready to be shipped back, or I donated it to Oxfam somewhere along the line …

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    • I bet you’re looking forward to being reunited with those books.
      (And someone else, as well, of course!!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember when this came out, as I had enjoyed his first novel, and thought I’d like to read this. I like that his novels are set in Newcastle – a regional city – rather than the big capital cities or smaller town. I think it adds depth to our literature.

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    • I agree. I really like it when I read something set somewhere outside the cities.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. And woo hoo – it looks like my 5-month wordpress log in malarkey is fixed. Ove the last 5 months I’ve had to enter all my data into your comment box (name, email, website) and then when I did Post Comment I was getting another box asking me to log into WP because I was logged into an account that wasn’t mine (but I was logged into my account). Anyhow, I felt it had something to do with some password software Mr Gums had installed on my machine because that’s when all the malarkey started. (It’s been terrible because there were about four different malarkies going on depending on which blogger I was commenting on.) Anyhow, I asked him to remove that software yesterday because I’m not using it and it looks like I’m back to normal again. I’ve posted on yours and one other blog (that had a slightly different malarky for me) and both just “knew” me straight off and took the comment. What a relief. WP tried to help, but it was what I thought it might have been, something peculiar to my set up!

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    • Well, I really must thank you for all your comments over that time. I knew you were having trouble, but I didn’t realise quite how tiresome it was. You’re always generous with your comments anyway, but now I’m even more grateful!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Lisa… It was very tiresome, but I wanted to keep commenting, of course! But fingers crossed that’s fixed!

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