Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Somebody loves us all - yes, it's true
But it is not quiet at all, my husband is chain-sawing branches from his olive trees. He calls it ‘pruning’ although it seems a lot more drastic than that. He pauses at each tree and mutters to himself about which branch is the right one to cut to let in the light, and touches them one by one before deciding. It’s as if he’s asking the tree to dance with him, to lift its arms from its sides and open its tired winter body to the splendid Wairarapa sun.
How supple time is in this place, in this sun. It stretches beside me like a yawning cat. I am writing every day – my children’s novel, which delights me, and my bereft Precarious when I can – and I am reading whatever my hand falls upon, and can be easily propped open on my chest in a hammock.
King of the hammock so far is the deliciously joyful, perceptive and funny Somebody Loves Us All by Damien Wilkins. This is a tour de force by the Wellington author written while basking in the Menton sun as last year’s Katherine Mansfield fellow. His joy at having time to write and being somewhere else is evident in this book. But like most ‘exiled’ writers, his mind fell back to where he came from and Somebody Loves Us All is set slap bang in apartment-living central Wellington with segues into Lower Hutt and Petone, and a trip through the Desert Road.
It’s about Paddy who’s 50 and a speech therapist with a regular newspaper column and one recalcitrant patient - Sam who refuses, for some reason, to speak. Paddy's also happily married and the proud new owner of a bicycle. Enter his ageing mother, who moves in next door and starts – with no knowledge of the language – speaking French.
As usual, Wilkins skewers the social stuff – the ways people are when they graze and grapple with each other, especially families. He always gets the mix of wonder and disgust, vulnerability and bullying, knowing and surprise, humour and sadness, vanity and self-loathing that characterise our relationships, but in his latest novel there is more wonder and humour, more surprise and vulnerability. This time, Wilkins nails the emotional stuff, and his novel is more expansive and more satisfying as a result. Definitely up at the top of my 'best of' list for the year.
What I treasure most of all reading Somebody Loves Us All are those laugh-out-loud moments - oh don’t we need those in a book! doesn’t comedy trump tragedy every time? These hover especially around the relationship Paddy has with his old mate, Lant, who is divorced and single and a demon on a bike. Their competitive cycling relationship made me howl – the question of who has the most sophisticated cycling gear and who can make it up the Hataitai hill first without being killed. Fabulous.
And then there's the mother. Her story is on the other end of the scale. Deeply and marvellously moving. The ending a triumph.