Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Somebody loves us all - yes, it's true

It’s hammock time again – under an olive tree with its nest of tiny voracious birds, beside a tree with three miniature red pears, within a click of the petanque pitch. It should be quiet here because for the past few days, after the fever of family that Christmas inspires, there’s only been two of us left standing, or lying as the case may be. And oddly, for us, there are no children.

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.


Harper said...

hey fellow bogspot chick

It's debzo in my lucy disguise. I have finally taken the plunge into the world of the blog but I am using it as a sounding board with others battling the bulge. Hope the weather in Martinborough is better than Kapiti. We get one great day like yesterday and then it's back to wind and clouds or even rain. Most depressing and not very inspiring for focused weight loss.

Enjoy your time X

Rachel Fenton said...

Happy new Year! Another on the "to read" list - I'd better get my skates on and finish writing what I've started and then a long reading holiday awaits.

Pam Morrison said...

Hi Mary, what a fabulous review. I am fully enticed! (That one goes on my list.)