Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 17, 2022

The Grease Monkey’s Tale, by Paul Burman

If you’ve ever done a bit of driving off the beaten track in Victoria, then you’ll know places exactly like the setting for this intriguing novel.  Paul Burman’s A Grease Monkey’s Tale put me in mind of remote small towns in the back-blocks of Gippsland but more specifically of Woods Point in the Great Dividing Range (pop.37 in 2016).  An old gold-mining town, it’s actually only 120 km northeast of Melbourne but it takes about three-and-a-half hours to get there over difficult terrain.  The town itself is at the end of a long winding road and you need nerves of steel to drive it in bad weather.  When I was last there Woods Point appeared to be a favourite haunt of intimidating bikies.  With apologies to anyone with tourism ambitions for the town, it wasn’t a place to hang about and we didn’t.

But that was my second visit to Woods Point.  The first time, back in the 1980s, I was rather enchanted by it.  We stayed the weekend there because one of The Ex’s pals in the legal fraternity had plans to acquire an old miner’s cottage there, under adverse possession.  He needed people staying in it in order to maintain his claim.

Adverse possession is a property law principle that allows a person to claim ownership of land without paying for it. Adverse possession occurs where a person has enjoyed uninterrupted and exclusive possession of land for a period of 15 years. Source: Civil Law Victoria.

Woods Point Bridge St (Wikipedia)

Whether this is a dubious way to acquire property or otherwise, I think that lawyer fancied that the cottage had possibilities as a snow-resort getaway, but now after reading Burnam’s novel, I wonder if its very remote location might have had other more nefarious possibilities!

In The Grease Monkey’s Tale, the novel begins with the central character Nic on his way to the fictional hamlet of Gimbly, where this unsuspecting young man is about to get himself into #NoSpoilers Serious Difficulties. (Gimbly is a character in Warcraft but I don’t think that’s got anything to do with things, though there are clever interpolations of twisted folk tales in the novel.)  Then comes the back story: Nic, a.k.a. the grease monkey is alone and lonely in Melbourne after he lost his entire family in a helicopter crash.  The insurance payout means he is well off, but he works as a mechanic and panel-beater because that’s what he enjoys. And when his boss is there at work with him, it means he has company to talk to.  At home there’s only his dead sister’s pet rat Polonious and her goldfish named Ophelia.

Well, one day when his boss is away on holiday Siobhan roars into Nic’s life in the sort of Porsche beloved of young men who are mad about cars.  She wants it fixed urgently, and by him, even though there’s a Porsche dealership just down the road.  Before long Nic is besotted, even though Siobhan is very adept at sidestepping questions about herself and she often disappears ‘on business’.

Then, on another occasion when his boss isn’t there, he gets another urgent job.  This time it’s one of those anonymous white delivery vans that are everywhere in the city, and it has some easy-to-repair damage as well as a profusion of electrical goods in the back.  The client is a creep: rude and horrible and Nic would rather have nothing to do with him, but Siobhan has asked him to do it as a favour to her.  And he just can’t say no to Siobhan.

And because we know from Chapter One that Nic is driving away from the city to start a new life with a name that’s just a label, a tag, and signifies sweet nothing, we know that Things Are Going To Go Horribly Wrong.

And they do. The novel is constructed to that we readers see what’s coming before Nic does.  This nice but rather naive young man is blinded by Love!

Abandoned by Siobhan, unemployed with no prospect of re-employment, alone and friendless with no one to advise him except the voices of his dead parents and sister, Nic has nothing to do except play albums of Blues recordings that Siobhan had bought him.  Then gosh! a fairy-godmother rings his doorbell with a job offer!

Against the background rumble of traffic and a crackle that had crept into the speaker, he had to ask her twice, but she either told him she was from Something Correctional Services or from Something Personnel Services.  She wasn’t collecting for the Lost Dogs’ home or selling God through instalments, that much was clear.

She was a short, bespectacled lady — the stereotypical image of a fairy-godmother, down to her brogues and tweed woollen suit, her tight bun of ice-white hair — and once she’d been invited in, she stood in the middle of his living-room, waiting to be offered a seat.  Quaint. (p. 95)

Oh dear.  When something seems to be good to be true, it usually is too good to be true, right? The warning bells are ringing but Nic is too dispirited and desperate to hear them.

So off he goes to Gimbly…

This, then, is how Nic came to be on the road, viewing his departure from a city of tall buildings through the rearview mirror of his glossy black 1972 E-Type, Series 3. [A Jaguar, like this one.) Once he’d overtaken the slow cattle truck he’d got stuck behind, he’d accelerate towards the freedom of a new start, towards an unboundaried sky and limitless horizons.  New people, new places, new life.  The past would diminish into the tiniest of specks and then disappear, because everything vanished after its time: good and bad, happy and sad.  Any last doubts he’d had about this journey would vanish as surely as the road unravelled.

Driving beyond the dry, deserted plains of old market gardens, where billboards and elaborate facades advertised city-expansion housing estates and off-the-peg, instant suburbs, he thought he could smell a faint whiff of newness blowing through the air vents and brightening the windscreen.  Yes, he was sure of it.  Unwinding his window, he took a deep breath as he peered at the hazy green distance and its horizon of rising hills, patchwork farms, forest shadows; he wondered how long it’d be before he returned and what new, whole person he’d have become.

Sometimes you’ve just go to leave a place in order to begin again.  Sometimes you have to leave in order to return. Sometimes you return only to find that nothing can be the same again.

Anything had to be an improvement on the last six months. (p.99-100)

Ah… no. Not necessarily…

Do things get worse when he makes his way to Gimbly to take up a new job with employers prepared to overlook his #NoSpoilers ‘experiences’?  Alas, they do.

The Grease Monkey’s Tale is only masquerading as a love story/mystery/thriller.  While there is superbly controlled narrative tension, the novel is also a meditation on the grief of an overwhelming tragedy; a cautionary tale about the vulnerability of love; and a thoughtful depiction of character transformation as Nic loses his naiveté while retaining the fundamental integrity bequeathed to him by his parents.

Highly recommended.

Paul Burman is also the author of The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore (2009) and Night-night, Sleep Tight (2017).  For more information about these books and Paul’s other creative work as an artist, visit his website.

Image credit: Woods Point Bridge St, by Mattinbgn (talk · contribs) – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22613799

Author: Paul Burman
Title: The Grease Monkey’s Tale
Publisher: Legend Press, London UK 2010
ISBN: 9781907461163, pbk., 284 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Blarney Books, Port Fairy $25.00

Available from Blarney Books and Art, and there’s also a Kindle edition.  (they also stock Night-night, Sleep Tight.

 


Responses

  1. Thank you, Lisa, for reading Grease Monkey and for your lovely comments. Very much appreciated.
    All the very best,
    Paul

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    • You’re welcome, Paul, I really enjoyed the book!

      Like

  2. I thought I had seen on Twitter that Burman was a Port Fairy local, and according to his website he is. Not many Woods Points around there, though some of the remoter towns in the Otways might get close. As long he is more accurate than Jane Harper – given glowing coverage this weekend in one of the papers – I won’t complain.
    I hope poor Nic gets some consolation for not getting Siobhan.

    Like

    • Well, I’m kind of hoping from a sequel from an older and wiser Nic!
      Yes, you’re right about the Otways, I don’t know them well but there are some small hamlets. But Gippsland I do know quite well, I had a friend who taught at the one-teacher school at Buchan South, and I used to visit her often. She had a battered old 4WD and we would explore the backblocks together, very small places that I’d never heard of. We’d go bushwalking together too: she was a self-taught expert on ferns and rocks, and our walks are a special memory of mine. Alas, she retired to Qld and she’s moved around so much I’ve lost contact with her.

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