Review: The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll

gift_of_speed.jpg The Gift of Speed
Steven Carroll
Fourth Estate

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award.]

The Gift of Speed is Steven Carroll's sequel to his 2001 novel The Art of the Engine Driver, which was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. The current novel is set against the backdrop of the 1960-61 West Indies cricket tour of Australia, a tour that is forever etched in cricket history in this country: the tour of the Tied test, Frank Worrell and Richie Benaud.

Michael, the twelve-year-old of the first book, is now sixteen and fixated on the concept of speed. In this case the speed of a fast bowler. He practices in his backyard continuously, shattering the side fence, and driving the neighbours and the others in his family to distraction with the thump of leather ball on wooden picket. Everyone in this novel is obsessed with speed, in one form or another: Webster, the local factory owner, hides his secret passion, a sportscar from his wife and drives it through the outer suburbs of Melbourne at night; Vic, the ex-train driver and Michael's father, loves the sound of diesels in the distance and dreams of slowing down and moving to a town on the coast; Rita, Michael's mother, is tired of the slow life but is doomed to live it; and Mary, Michael's grandmother, is old and just slowing down.

Carroll has drawn an image of an Australian suburb that is calm and ordered, slow-paced and friendly, and he infuses it with a texture that is autobiographical in nature. It was a time when it was possible to stop in the street and listen to the cricket coming from windows and shops. Maybe even the last time this was possible. And this is the impression the author gives: by extending the characters' inner worlds out into the wider physical landscape the novel is told in a languid prose that flows with the speed of contemplation.

I suppose it's possible that some readers will be put off by the cricket motif running throughout the book. I hope that isn't the case. You have to read the cricket as a reflection of Michael's life and times. It fits beautifully.

Current Matilda ranking for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award:

1. The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
2. The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll
3. The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood
4. Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 21, 2005 4:45 PM.

Apology to Steven Carroll was the previous entry in this blog.

The Cost of Australian Books is the next entry in this blog.

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