Building on Sand
"Can Jude Watson discover the truth about himself. Mysteriously abandoned by his mother at an early age, torn between his loyalties to a nostalgic, Victorian grandfather and to a warm, Irish-Catholic grandmother, and completely captivated by the adolescent capers of his heroic footballer uncle, the young Jude is forced to create many names for himself before he is able to carve his own place in the uncertain, adult world.
"Jude Rowe-Jones, St Jude Hope of the Hopeless, JRJ the dashing naval officer, Judd the failed schoolboy-poet, Judah the biblical lion ... The names accumulate, but a question constantly echoes behind all these facades and all through Jude's life: "Who the hell are you?"
"His world is the growing city of Adelaide in the nineteen-fifties. It's postwar Australia, new waves of European migration, the advent of American pop culture with souped-up FJ Holdens, rock-and-roll beach parties and teenage jiving at the drive-in ... It is a world that is rapidly changing, very much like the shifting sand that Jude played in as a child. Will he discover, among his intense memories of the place where he once lived, his true identity?
"Building On Sand is a moving, gripping tale of childhood betrayals and fantasies. Full of humour, irony and pathos, it is also a powerful and vivid depiction of an entire era."
The house was built on sand. When the winds blew straight in oil the sea, as they did all winter, rocking and buffeting the house like a ship, and rain thrashed against the window-panes, and the sea thudded all night against the Esplanade wall, and the back paddocks flooded, my grandfather lay awake awaiting the fate of the foolish man in the Bible and dreamed of his bunker. He would dig deep into the lea-side of the hill, prop it up with railway-sleepers, then bring in rocks for the foundations, setting the whole thing in concrete two-foot thick. It would be solid, solid as a rock. And he would sleep all night.
As it was I would wake up to the striking of a match in the dark, catch for a moment the weathered face, the scarf and tweed cap he wore day and night in winter. Then the tiny coal of his pipe would glow, a small warming fire in the midst of the tempest, as he sucked, sucked, into the small hours and dug back through all the rain-bitten winters of his grown-up life, two Depressions and two world wars, back to the Old Days, to his childhood, the days of the horse and trap, when his family lived in a vast house set on the firm rocks of enterprise, uprightness, and reputation.
Edward was a talker. I often asked him about these Old Days, and he would make them come to life like Aladdin's wishes out of the smoke that twisted in endless ethereal skeins about his head.
When he told his stories he was no longer worried, and so I didn't have to worry either. In the mornings, at the distant drumming sound of cold water going into the kettle, we settled back and pulled up our bedclothes, warm in a world of known beginnings and known ends.
From the Angus and Robertson hardback edition, 1988.
This novel was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 1989.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002-04 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: December 9, 2004.