This is Deb Fitzpatrick’s first novel for adults. Her other books include the children’s book, ‘The Amazing Spencer Gray’ (2013), and her novels for young adults, ‘Have You Seen Ally Queen?’ (2011) and ’90 Packets of Instant Noodles’ (2010).
‘The Break’ is set in Margaret River, in the southwest of Western Australia, in the mid-1990s. It tells the story of two couples—Rosie and Cray, and Liza and Ferg—both of whom are struggling.
Jaded journalist Rosie and her FIFO partner, Cray, leave their jobs and move from Fremantle to the southwest for a fresh start and a better lifestyle. Rosie starts work at the local pub, but Cray is reluctant to look for work and spends his days surfing:
‘Jesus bloody Christ, he thought. I’m only gunna live eighty years. And forty are meant to be spent working; forty trying to make money. People seemed to do anything to get the stuff, and expected him to do the same. And yet they all had those mugs with Countdown to the weekend and Thank God it’s Friday on their desks. The least you could do, he reckoned, was have a job that fulfilled the basic human need of pleasure.’
The other couple, Liza and Ferg Crowe, have always lived in Margaret River, tending the family farm, resentfully at times.
‘But he was bored too, if he was honest. Underwhelmed. Still on the farm, following his old man’s dream. He tried to think. Had it ever become his own dream?’
Their only son, Sam, lonely and seeking refuge from his parents’ arguments, finds solace in the exciting world inside his computer.
Ferg’s mother, Pip, shares their home and is trying to find purpose to her life after losing her husband. There’s also Ferg’s brother, Mike, an addict on the methadone programme, who wants to make another go of it and who, much to Ferg’s annoyance, reappears in their lives.
Then there’s the developers, threatening to destroy one of the local beaches …
This novel was written as a response to the 1996 cliff collapse in the southwest town of Gracetown, in which nine people were killed. I read the book knowing this and expected the collapse to happen early, but the actual incident occurs towards the end, by which time the reader knows the characters intimately as they’re so well-drawn. The effect is devastating …
The story is authentically West Australian—set in Fremantle, the Pilbara, and the southwest. It’s told in an informal Aussie vernacular that is particularly evocative:
‘After a coffee, and after Shitslinger had gone to let fly at a few of the others, Cray drove over to the pit, spraying a fresh coat of rust-coloured dust over the donga office as he left in the Hilux. It was only about a kay away on a good gravel track, and it gave him a chance to see the sky and the odd saltbush and mallee tree. Tumbleweed raced across the land. Sometimes he’d try to beat it if it was headed for the road, for the car, rolling—almost bouncing—quick and light, towards nowhere.’
My favourite descriptions, though, were of the ocean:
‘But she saw him looking out at the gathering and ingathering of the water, and she sat up and looked, too, despite the autumn chill to the air.
The water came in, pummelled the rocks and sand, then retreated. It seemed to woo the land, with an intensity of lines and heaves and movement that didn’t exist further out, closer to the horizon. Why is it, she thought, that where the two meet, water and land, there’s this struggle?’
From about half-way through the story, the narrative seems to darken and slow as tension builds towards the climax. The ending is powerful and stayed with me long after I’d put the book down.
In short, this is a story about family and relationships, about second chances and forgiveness, about starting afresh and working out what’s important in life, and about the fragility of the land and of life.
Addendum: I don’t like to read other people’s book reviews until after I’ve written my own, so I’ve just discovered Amanda Curtin’s interview with Deb Fitzpatrick on Amanda’s blog, in which Deb talks about the inspiration for her novel and her favourite passages.