Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Broken Shore, encore une fois

Peter Temple's The Broken Shore was published last year to rave reviews, including mine for the SMH, and it's just won the Colin Roderick Award for 2005. This award is given by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies at James Cook University for the best Australian book, in any genre, published in the previous calendar year: The Broken Shore won out over, among other shortlisted things, Kate Grenville's The Secret River and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers.

As I can no longer find my review online, I reproduce it here in an attempt to lure anyone who hasn't read this book yet to do so at the first opportunity.

Synchronistically, if that is a word, this news comes within days of my stumbling over another rave review of Temple, this time of Identity Theory which I haven't read, at the blog Head Butler, where Jesse Kornbluth says this. But in the meantime, here's mine from last year:


The Broken Shore
By Peter Temple
Text Publishing, 320pp, $29.95

Detective Senior Sergeant Joe Cashin, badly damaged in the line of duty, has been seconded to a job in the relative quiet of his childhood home town on the southern coast of Victoria. When he isn’t walking his two black standard poodles through the countryside or trying to find a comfortable position for his damaged body in a chair or on the floor while he listens to opera, Cashin spends his non-work time planning the rebuilding of the ancestral ruin in which he lives.

But then a highly respected and well-heeled local is found dead in his own home, and the body shows the marks of torture. The evidence points to three Aboriginal boys from the local community, but it soon starts to look as if there might be quite a different story behind this murder.

It’s hard to know where to start praising this book. Plot, style, setting and characters are all startlingly good, and even lovers of crime fiction will recognise that Temple has taken his writing beyond the usual boundaries of that admirable genre, though it still follows the mainstream conventions. There’s the idiosyncratic detective, a troubled loner with signature tastes in music, alcohol and/or books. There’s the tight plot full of red herrings and false trails, and the deft interweaving of a romance sub-plot involving a suitably foxy heroine. And there are some very, very horrible moments as the action unfolds.

Temple’s greatest gift is for the creation of his characters: their back-stories are sketched in with great economy and clarity, their general cast of mind is conveyed through small details, and their motivations are revealed detail by small detail. But most of all, Temple has an astonishing skill in conveying the feeling between his characters: the slow accretions of trust, the red haze of hatred, the fine strands of hostility in the weave of desire. When this book is made into a movie – and it will be – the real test for the actors will be in the two-handed scenes where they have to play off each other, because the emotional currents running between the various characters are so deep and strong as to be almost visible.

Temple has an acute ear for the speech patterns of a certain kind of Australian man. Although the story is not actually told in the first person, we see events from Cashin’s point of view so the style tends to be that of the character’s own very Australian inner voice, laconic to the point of occasional incomprehensibility, its humour deadpan and drier than a chip. When Cashin and his colleague Dove notice a bit of casual private-schoolboy bullying as they pass in the street – itself a briefly eloquent counterpoint to the wasted lives of the Aboriginal boys – Dove says ‘Year ten mugging class. Been out on a prac.’

There’s also plenty of action, much of it gruesome, some of it comic. There are remarkable evocations of landscape and cityscape, in which recognisable parts of Australia melt imperceptibly into fictional ones: Temple’s Melbourne is half invented, half real, as though you could turn down an alley off Lygon Street and suddenly find yourself in one of his plots. There are also some spectacular set pieces; the scene in the abandoned theatre is brilliant and chilling, a passage of suspense and horror that’s played out in silence and leaves much of the worst to the reader’s imagination.

The subject matter combines two of the most dark and dangerous undercurrents in contemporary Australian society: the status and treatment of the Aboriginal population, and the emergence of long-buried stories of institutional sexual abuse. Temple writes about these things with enough insight and passion to make the reader ask exactly where the boundary lies between genre fiction and ‘serious’ literary fiction. The Broken Shore is one of those watershed books that make you re-think your ideas about reading.

11 comments:

Lucy Sussex said...

You might also want to take a look at Elizabeth George's WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER. Lousy title, but apt. Her previous book, NO ONE AS WITNESS, ended with a shocking crime, and this one is the prequel--the making of a murderer. The best contemporary crime writers can do society's ills better than the litmob. And George does it without wringing her hands, just a realism that approaches Zola. Lucy

Zoe said...

I heard the writer on the country hour on RN last year (he'd been the presenter's writing lecturer, and he obviously adored him so put him on because the book was set in "The Regions"). Sounded great then, but I'd forgotten. As I am very obedient, I will go and buy it!

KLG said...

I'm a couple of chapters into that one, Lucy -- it's (and this too is like Zola; great comparison) so distressing in its material, much worse than straightforward crime gore, that I keep having to put it down. New(ish) territory for George, but you're right, she is very sharp-eyed and dispassionate.

The Temple book is indeed very 'regional' -- I don't know that part of the country very well but the book is very evocative of a certain kind of Australian life-in-landscape. He does inner Melbourne really well too.

kimbofo said...

Thanks for this review and bringing this book to my attention. Happily it's available in the UK, as I've just checked Amazon, which is selling it at a heavily discounted price. I've added it to my wish list.

wendy said...

I'm waiting impatiently for my husband to finish reading this. Thus far it's a big thumbs-up from him, which is no mean feat. As a former (but only just!) cop, he's ridiculously hard to please (and prone to dangerous eye-rolling) when it comes to fictional representations of policing (film or book). I love 'em all : Dalgliesh, Lynley, Morse, Poirot & Alleyn as well as the grittier, 'hard-boiled' girls & boys. Like Lucy, I think they do (& maybe have always done) a brilliant job of putting their finger on their particular here & now.

Zoe said...

Just started last night after (finally) finishing The Vivisector.

Dogs with "furry scimitars" for tails! On the first page! And a whole long weekend coming up in which to read it! Yay!

KLG said...

Onya Zoe -- I'd love to know what you think.

Zoe said...

I left a comment before, but it seems to not have registered. I did bang on a bit!

I loved how balanced it was; I've read a huge amount of detective fiction (though a little less lately) and was impressed at the depth of the characters and the tautness. I want to buy the film rights, but I imagine they've already gone. I wonder how well Cashin would last - thinking here of Rebus who has worn his groove too deep.

Rufus said...

Peter Temple is on record somewhere as saying The Broken Shore is not the first of a series, so we'll never know how Joe Cashin would have developed. It's probably a good thing. It certainly has potential as a film, but are there any male actors around who could do Joe and Rebb justice?

KLG said...

He's not how I imagine Joe physically, but I think David Wenham is more than capable of the necessary combination of glimpsable interiority with hyper-masculinity. That ordinary-bloke-but-uber-fit soldier/cop walk and stance in Answered by Fire was just masterly, as is his range, from Sea Change to The Boys.

Zoe, Temple does have a regular 'series' crime-busting character called Jack Irish. Rufus is right in saying that Temple has said Cashin is a one-off, but I think that was before this book became such a huge hit. He may have changed his mind.

Anonymous said...

came late to the feast--am American who picked it up by chance at my local library--love this book--want to know what came before when Cashin drops ever so many references to his injuries w/o the whole story being spilled at one--his family's convoluted past, and the current mystery unrolling like the duel between a marlin and cagy fisherman....
he reminds me of Hemingway with the moving thurst of description that is relentless even when it does not seem so
would love to real the prequel and hope the success of the book have
Temple reconsidering his original choice that it was a one-off...
an English teacher from Texas