Mar. 11th, 2013

sharplittleteeth: (Default)
We spent the weekend up in Ballarat, at my sister's house. One the train back, I was down to the last few pages of The Harp in the South when we started to approach Southern Cross Station, and I had to decided whether to race through to the end or wait until I could savour them.

I choose to savour. Because I loved this book. Absolutely loved it.

It's the story the Murphys, an Irish-Australian family living in the post-War slums of Surrey Hills. (I assume it's post-War: the book was published in 1948, but the war is never mentioned.)

It's a setup that is practically cliché these days: the poor Irish family, drinking and fighting and making up. But Park is too clever for that. Scenes twist in unexpected ways. Her characters are full of vanities and flaws. The book is dark and funny, savage and kind.

Here. This is why I loved this book:
There was a strange deep satisfaction in watching a funeral; it made them feel almost smug that they were still alive; that someone else had fallen before the Reaper, while they still stood, not only alive and kicking, but with a good chance of winning the double on Saturday.
Scenes stick with me: father Hughie fighting with Grandma about who makes the best Christmas pudding, eldest daughter Roie buying herself a brooch and pretending it's a preset so her family don't think less of her Jewish boyfriend, the lonely organ-grinder happily suffering abuse while he courts their lodger.

If the book has a weak point, it comes towards the end when daughter Roie falls properly in love. Perhaps Park wanted to make up for all the miseries she put the characters through, but Roie's happiness and dedication to her fiancé lack the sharp insight and specificity of the earlier character sketches. Roie becomes blander and more generic the happier she grows.  Or perhaps that was Park's point: happy families are all alike, etc. etc.

It's a minor flaw. Overall, this a wonderful book. Highly recommended.

I really want to read Playing Beatie Bow now, too. I remember seeing the movie on TV sometime in the 80s, and I remember vaguely that it had to do with ghosts and time travel. But mostly all I remember is the massive teenage crush I had on Imogen Annesley.

I'm sure Ruth Park would have something clever to say about that.


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