Loretta describes herself disparagingly as "an old scrag" at all of thirty. Don't believe a word of it. She is a fierce, funny fighter, living in a tiny Australian town which is short of jobs, services and husbands. After 10 years of marriage her husband drove off and never came back.
I really enjoyed this story of a woman fighting to save the local school and other services in the town, standing up for what she believes in and trying to resist the slide into total cynicism and apathy. I'd hate to live in Gunapan, but I'd love to meet Loretta, her kids, and her friend Norm who owns the junkyard.
I hope there are plans to bring O'Reilly's first novel and her short story collection out over here soon, very soon.
on 9 February 2012
Left behind in Gunapan by her lousy husband with her two children, Loretta Boskovic drives the dusty road from her house to town, staring out at the scrubby bushland dreaming of rescue by a handsome lover and a car radio that gets something other than racing commentary. In this unique, wryly observed novel, Paddy O'Reilly captures the essence of a lonely Australian bush town and it's ordinary residents with humour and heart.
The author's protagonist is a woman you will find in any small town, she is a single mother juggling child raising with work, a budget that only allows for discounted undies and a longing for an intimate relationship. Loretta copes with the spareness of her life with a wicked sense of humour, and roll-up-your-sleeves and get-on-with-it attitude. Her children are everything to her, even though she regularly fantasises about being whisked away from their whining demands. Raising her two children on her own isn't easy, they miss their father and his sudden (though mercifully brief) reappearance seems to trigger their worst instincts leaving Loretta floundering.
Loretta isn't completely alone, her neighbour, Norm - a laconic and slightly eccentric collector - is her dearest friend and champion. Her best friend is also a single woman on the prowl and in a community like Gunupan everyone knows everyone else.
In an unconscious effort to stave off her loneliness, Loretta rallies the community in an effort to stop the closure of their school and when that is accomplished, finds a new cause involving a shady development deal and corruption Councillors. In a small town like Gunapan the community is the lifeblood of the town and depends on its' residents to fight for it to stay alive.
It is rare to find Australian novels with a vivid sense of place but O'Reilly evokes this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, slowly dying as services and amenities disappear. Public swimming pools are drained and sports fields are unplayable thanks to the extended drought and the youth grow up and leave for greener pastures. These towns rarely get much attention in fiction with the dazzling Sydney Harbour or wild, romantic outback providing more popular and scenic backdrops.
Loretta's every day life in an ordinary town makes for a surprisingly compelling story. The Fine Colour of Rust is a character driven novel that also addresses a variety of themes such as social injustice and inequality within a subtly layered plot. It will make you laugh and cry and is a fine example of contemporary Australian fiction that captures the essence of who we are, and who we want to be.
Other reviewers have described the plot-line succinctly already: a single mum with two children living in an Australian backwater who has some guts to organise a protest at the plans to close the school.
She's self-deprecating and dreamy, matter-of-fact and yet hopeful. I really came to like her because she seems to have a life with a lot of cards stacked against her, and yet, she doesn't give up. She has some fight to her, and she has some lovely friends (though things aren't always rosy between them).
I really enjoyed the snapshot of life in small-town Australia. O'Reilly gave me a sense of place that managed to be foreign and exotic, and yet, having grown up myself in small-town Texas, strangely familiar. The heat, the space, the struggling shops and the tensions between the have's and have-not's.
One thing most telling about this book is O'Reilly's writing style. Loretta is a plain-speaking, slightly cynical woman.
"[The mayor is] patting his stomach so fast now it looks like he's got a motorized hand. The gorgeous pink has faded. He's dead white. I hope he isn't getting pains in his chest. I had to take a first aid course when I started work ... but the dummy was half the size of Vaughan. I don't think I'd even be able to turn him on his side."
Yet, there's also something warm and honest in her narrative musings as well:
"The trouble with gentle, calm, quiet people I don't know well is that I find myself babbling to fill the spaces between bits of conversation. Useless information wells up out of me and dribbles all over the silence."
I found the book started a bit slow in terms of plot, but don't be fooled: by the time I got half-way, I was looking for excuses to pick it up, immersing myself so much in the world of backwater Gunapan that I burned the dinner and forgot to put the kids to bed.
I am delighted that I picked this novel for review. It is just terrific. Well written with totally convincing characters I absolutely loved it.
Loretta Buskovic, a thirty something single mother, lives in Gunapan, a small Australian country town with a population of about 1000. Life isn't exactly exciting there and she dreams of men coming into her life and rescuing her, not knights in white horses exactly but modern day equivalents, men in BMWs or on Harley Davidson. Don't worry though, this isn't a soppy romance (not that there's anything wrong with a good romance!)it's much, much more than this. It's about friendship, community, the need to fight for what you believe in and Loretta fights well. Firstly against the closure of their local school and then against a corrupt leisure development which threatens their water supply.
This is a book which makes you laugh out loud. Loretta's voice is so life like that I feel I know her and this is one of the best things about this book. The dialogue is so realistic with the back and forth banter that comes with comfortable friendships. The characters are also very convincing as a whole, I can't think of a dud amongst them, but several stand out. Loretta herself of course, her elderly friend Norm and her sassy daughter Melissa, only 11 but at times, going on 40, yet at others a vulnerable little girl, let down by her unreliable father.
P.A O'Reilly has other books, not yet published here but I'm sure they will be and I'm going to be on the look out for them. One last thing - I can't believe this isn't on the longlist for the Orange Prize. What were they thinking?
Loretta. Single mum since the husband walked out some time ago. Left with her two kids and no maintenance. But at least she's got a part time job, and friends, in the rural Australian town of Gunapan. There's Norm, the old guy down the road with a patch of skin cancer on his forehead, and there's Helen, a good friend to drink a glass of wine with when things get bad. Loretta is always campaigning to save the school, and again its under threat of closure. But it's hard to get many people to be enthusiastic, really, especially as there are whispers of a new country spa development just up the road from town, where jobs might be had......
Loretta is a heroine I loved. She's just like a lot of us. She's a bit overweight, she's none too hot in the housekeeping department, she loves her kids (even though she dreams of dumping them and riding off into the sunset on the back of a Harley Davidson), She wishes she could afford new clothes, and her car is falling apart around her as she ferries the kids back and fore to school.
Norm is a good friend, who is covered in the grime of many years of having a scrapyard in his own backyard. Loretta keeps a bar of soap especially for Norm to wash his hands when he pops over for a cup of tea, or supper. When Norm has the patch of skin cancer removed, it's the catalyst for many happenings, and when his son comes home from prison after 14 years inside, things change - but not as you might expect.
The book is set in Australia, but you will recognise the characters from anywhere in the world. It's a lovely read with a couple of laugh out loud moments and I romped through it.
When this book popped up I was looking for a suitable book for holiday reading. Although the publisher's description put it on the edge of books that I would choose I'm glad that I did.
It is a splendid read, and one that can be read for an hour, put down and picked up a day or two later without having to go back and remind yourself of details that you have forgotten and without which you lose the plot.
The whole book from the cover illustration inwards is warm and joyful. There's ups and downs that bring the book to life and that happy sad feeling at the end when you wish it just went on.
on 21 April 2012
I downloaded this after reading a strong magazine review and to be honest, because i loved the title! Just one of those books that provides a little taste of life and makes you feel good at the end of it. Well written, witty and poignant, it will make you smile and give you moments of sadness in equal measure. Gentle but clever and nothing like my normal reading choices. I have recommended it several times since reading and yet to find a friend who wasn't touched by it.
This is an easy to read novel, set in Gunapan a small town in Western Australia, which is not a glamourous place.
The book is written in the first person, that is Loretta O'Brian who is a feisty single mum of two kids; Melissa who is 11 and already a teen in her attitude, and Jake a typical 8 year old boy. Loretta loves her kids, yet is often promising herself that she will drop them off at the nearest orphanage or simply sell them!
I thought that was a bit harsh! but of course she never means it.
I enjoyed the book and I liked Loretta and her two kids. I liked her friend Norm. and I enjoyed disliking her husband from whom she is separated.
Loretta is campaigning to keep the town's small school open, she also discovers that there are plans to build a holiday spa resort for outsiders to visit. Nothing for the locals. As she digs in to find out what is going on she doesn't always make herself popular. Everyone has their own agenda. There is also a mysterious family keeping themselves separate who turn out to be refugees from Bosnia. This thread adds some connectedness to the outside world which doesn't really intrude on small town life in Gunapan.
Norm, my favourite character has a huge junkyard where customers spend more time gossiping than buying. Norm is like a grandfather to Melissa and Jake. (He has his own grown up son who makes an appearance later in the novel). It is Norm's junk yard that supplies the title of the book.
As I read the book I could feel the heat, temperature wise, even in our winter and I could really believe in Loretta as a real person. The plot isn't so important as the characters and their ups and downs with each other. There is plenty of humour and some sadness. A good book to curl up with and forget the cold.
on 23 September 2012
This is an extract from my full review, which you can find on my website: [...]
If you're looking for something fast-paced and where the action explodes off the page, this isn't for you: this story moves at it own pace, it unfolds gradually and gives you the time to savour the grains and dust that make up so much of our lives.
The story revolves around Loretta Boskovic, a single mother among a sea of single mothers who daydreams of capturing the heart of a reliable and hopefully (though always imaginary) well-heeled man, whilst inspiring the rest of the town of Gunapan's population to do battle with big and small government.
The town is, by and large, forgotten by everyone bar the locals and is thus ripe to be shafted by unscrupulous property dealers. Not only do they plan to nick the local water supply, they see the town as a sort of feeder factory of workers for the resort they plan to build (with help from some obliging members of the local council). That's battle No 2.
Battle No 1 involves dragging the Minister for Education, Elderly Care and Gaming into Gunapan to talk to the residents about their never-going-to-give-up battle to save their children's school from closure.
And if the minister's title brings a smile to your lips then you'll be happy to know that the book is laced with this kind of
humour. It's not quite black, but for every situation Loretta and the town finds themselves in, there's nearly always a humorous lining. For me, one of the great lol moments was the hospital scene between Loretta, her sick mother and Loretta's children, which is both bizarre and sharply dark.
The characters, their lives and experiences are all well written and believeable - you warm to them all (except the scattering of baddies). If, like me, you read foriegn literature to gain something of an insight into how other nations think and act, then you won't be disappointed, though it'd probably be wise not to imagine that the Gunapanians represent all of Oz. On the other hand, the issues being dealt with here are universal, the sort of things we read about wherever we are.
My only real criticism is there is a long-ish build up to a fairly important event which we jump over, to land in the aftermath of an explanation of how it had unravelled and been dealt with. I felt slightly cheated because I wanted one or two of the baddies to get their come uppance, and I wanted the satisfaction of witnessing it.
It isn't a difficult book to read: the pages turn almost by themselves as O'Reilly's easy style of writing and the laughs keep you wanting more. Overall, I really enjoyed this snapshot of middle-of-nowhere Australia, a place populated with every-day people struggling to bring happines into some pretty tough lives, and not giving up on this despite the commerecial and political skulduggery. Personally, I'd like to find out what happens next, but failing this, will settle for reading the rest of O'Reilly's back-catalogue.
on 21 January 2013
This book is set in Gunapan, a Victorian small town with a lot of dust and Loretta, a single mother looking after her 2 kids after being abandoned by their loser father. She's feisty, tough, and likes eating a whole pack of biscuits when stressed. She is leading a campaign to save the local school from shutdown, which brings the minister for education to Gunapan (amongst other story threads).
The book is a reasonable read. It's a reasonable price - but I found the narrative oddly distracting and it jarred for me, jarred me right out of the book to imagining the writer thinking up these sentences - e.g. 'Only in Gunapan. Merv Bull sounds like an old farmer with black teeth and hay in his hair who scoops yellow gobs from his ear and stares at them for minutes on end like they'll forecast the weather'. And breathe!
Some scenarios seem also to stand out from the book as being crafted so carefully in their hilarity, that they somehow end up barely amusing (e.g. the butchery demonstration during the minister's visit, with him receiving a fine mist of gore as a result).
The tale and plot meander at the towns pace a little..the storyline is not particularly compelling.
I think I am alone in my views! Nevertheless, this felt like a somewhat self-consciously written book, which unfortunately left me without hunger for further titles by this author.