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4.0 out of 5 stars Bad mother, 8 July 2013
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Floundering (Paperback)
Floundering is a novel about a bad mother, Loretta, taking her two boys, Jordy and Tom, on a road trip to disaster. This is something of a genre in Australia right now with Tony Birch's Blood nominated for the Miles Franklin Award 2012; Nick Cave's Death of Bunny Munro; and the film Last Ride. Nevertheless, Floundering does add well to the emergent canon.

Narrated by Tom, an 11 year old boy, we have observations that are informed by the school of hard knocks, but that still have some wide eyed innocence. As he and Jordy are scooped up by Loretta from their grandmother's house - where she had dumped them a year ago - he comes along with excitement and relief. The car, a yellow dilapidated affair called Bert, is treated as part of the family. Bert, at least, offers more reliable shelter than Loretta who is easily sidetracked by pubs and memories. It becomes clear, eventually, that Loretta is taking the boys to the beach for a holiday - the same site that Loretta used to come when she was young. But Loretta's chaotic lifestyle has left her under-prepared and things do not go well.

Tom is afraid of authority and worries that if he draws attention to himself, he and Jordy will be taken into care and split up. This means he puts up with a lot. But as the boys' situation becomes ever worse, they need to seek help. Their neighbour in the caravan park from Hell, Nev, has already told them he doesn't like children and warned them to stay away...

This is a bleak novel, but does have moments of light and humour. One of the real strengths is that none of the characters is exclusively bad and none is a saint. Loretta does love her boys, but is simply incapable of looking after herself, let alone a family. Jordy and Tom fight like a sack of cats, but still have a tender core that looks for the best in people. Those they meet along the way are often helpful, but sometimes not as helpful as they could be and sometimes at a price.

Like other works of the genre, there's no obvious reason how the current situation arose, and no obvious way it is going to resolve itself afterwards. It is just a disconnected slice of time.

At times, the novel can be hard to follow. Major plot developments can happen in single lines that can look throwaway. There tends to be a gap between something happening and Tom's realisation of its importance. There can be rapid shifts in time and setting that are not always well signposted. But these quirks are what makes the book so endearing. Floundering's not a long novel, but there's a lot in it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `I have that itchy skin feeling that someone is watching us.', 1 May 2013
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Floundering (Paperback)
Tom and Jordy are brothers. They've been living with their grandparents since their mother Loretta left them on the doorstep one day. One day, as the boys are walking between home and school, Loretta turns up. `I've come to get you, she says.' It will be fun, Loretta tells them. Jordy is not so sure, but he joins Tom in the car. Together the three of them set of in Loretta's run-down car on a long journey to a mystery destination.

Tom is eleven, and the younger of the two brothers. He narrates the story - telling what he sees and describing his experiences. But when Loretta and the boys reach their destination - an isolated, dilapidated caravan near the sea - Loretta disappears again. This location does not live up to Loretta's memory of it, and disappointment sets in quickly. Their near neighbour, Nev, tells the boys to stay away (for good reason as it turns out) but helps them at the end of the story.

The story unfolds through a series of small events which (somehow) largely bypass disaster. And yet danger is never very far away, at least to adult readers.

`It feels like a dream anyway.'

`Floundering' is Romy Ash's debut novel, and is included on the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Award 2013 which was announced earlier today. At just over 200 pages, it is a quick but haunting read. I literally could not put it down: I wanted Tom and Jordy to be safe, to be fed appropriately and to be cared for. I wanted Loretta to look beyond fun and find responsibility. I was pleased that Nev helped the boys, but wished he was more likeable. There is no neat ending to this story, and I was left wondering what would happen next - to Loretta, Tom, Jordy and Nev. `Floundering' may relate to fishing (unsuccessfully in this case) for flounder, but it mostly relates to trying to make sense of people and life.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Floundering by Romy Ash (Paperback - 26 Jan 2014)
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