Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Long Way From Home

Title:  A Long Way From Home
Author:  Peter Carey
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0525520171 / 978-0525520177

Book Source:   I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "For a girl to defeat one father is a challenge, but there were two standing between me and what I wanted, which was - not to fiddle faddle - a lovely little fellow named Titch Bobs."

Favorite Quote:  "This was Titch's only fault, the belief he could have anything he wanted. This is how birds fly into window glass, how women fall pregnant. This is no sense in it, only wanting what you are not allowed to have."

The Redex Trial was an actual car racing event in Australia. It began in the 1950s with the loose goal of circumnavigating Australia. The trek covered thousands of miles with cars and drivers gaining points at various checkpoints along the way. The first Redex covered about 6,500 miles with subsequent ones being substantially longer. More than a race, it was a test of the durability of cars, particularly in extreme conditions. Of course, it also became a race.

This book is the fictional story of one team that undertakes this event in 1954. Irene Bobs loves fast cars. Her husband Titch is a car salesman, reputed to be the best in the country. Joining them on this trek is their neighbor Willie, who happens to be a disgraced school teacher and somewhat of a celebrity for a radio quiz show.

The book has a long setup. It introduces Irene and Titch as they move into a new home and they seek to set up their own car dealership. Titch has worked for his father for a long time, but a falling out has led them separate ways. Now, life is more about a father and son competing. The story at this point is about the relationships and about the car industry in Australia at that time. The narration flips between Irene and Willie.

The book changes direction as they decide to take on this trek. The element of competition and will to succeed changes focus from the dealership to the race.

Then, the book changes direction again as the race takes them well off the beaten path - literally and figuratively. Literally, proper roads don't exist where they drive. Figuratively, this trek introduces the tree to an Australia vastly different from the one they call home. The book takes on social commentary on the race and social inequities of the times particularly in the treatment of the aboriginal populations. For Willie, this journey takes him on a journey of his own family history.

I love the setting of the book. I find Australia fascinating and hope one day to travel there - a "bucket list" trip if you. I love learning about the aboriginal cultures and the cultural history embodied in the book. That being said, I have a really hard time engaging with the book.

The setup of the book takes a long time - over a hundred pages. The dual narrators with completely different lives at the beginning cause confusion until the connection is made. The characters start off almost caricature like, and their stories have an element of randomness to them. It is hard to recover from that as the book turns. The book begins as a mad dash adventure and veers completely into a simultaneous look at a dark history and the vibrant culture that was almost destroyed. It's all a little bit confusing and a little bit too much. The historical and the cultural aspects are the ones I find most interesting in the book. Unfortunately, I am not the right reader for the fictional context the book places around the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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