Combined Reviews: Sandstone by Stephen Lacey

sandstone.jpg Reviews of Sandstone by Stephen Lacey.

This book was shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia South Pacific region of the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Description: "Sandstone is set in postwar Australia -- a time when people held hopes for the future, based largely around the dream of home ownership.

"Jack, Ruth and their family imagine that their lives will change the day they move into the new home they are building in the small coastal village of Point Henry. They hope the fibro cottage and shiny laminex will bring them happiness and a new start for their family. But as Jack and his sons labour over the foundations for their new life it becomes harder and harder to block out the dark events in their past.

"With a fine eye for detail and a terrific cast of Australian characters, Stephen Lacey reminds us that while we all dream for greater things, sometimes true contentment can be found at home."

At Boomerang Books, Annelise Balsamo is intrigued by the novel but finds that some readers may not be: "Sandstone reads as a family saga that begs for resolution. There is so much mystery, so many bad eggs, so much injustice that you continue to turn the pages in a kind of fever to learn the 'truth', to see 'justice' meted out. Ruth and Jack (and their many children) are haunted by a past, particularly by an event that the novel, in the first twist from the path of resolution, never quite explicates. They decide that they will begin again by building a new house, where no-one has ever died, where no-one will ever fight. This house is a long-running metaphor, we learn about the foundations of sandstone, the joists of warped timber, the walls of fibro-cement and so on. Life, however, is not quite so neatly layered, and the novel is much more interested in this ambiguity than an easy resolution. Indeed, the novel offers a counter position to the structure of the house and the temptations of resolution through Ruth's disaffection with God, and her belief that there is no plan, no central design. The reader is stranded between the impulse of 'what happened and who pays' and deeper possibilities on offer in nuance and intimation. I think this conflict makes the novel, but it may alienate readers who feel that the saga elements are never properly fulfilled."

If it's handled properly I don't have a major problem with that approach, so long as the author doesn't give the impression that he doesn't know how to finish. That's the "kiss of death" in my view.

In the September 2005 edition of "Australian Book Review", Allan Gardiner puts the novel into literary context: "Lacey...[makes] some effort to present [his] particular chunk of the past as a prelude to contemporary situations, and [to] try to present a vision of a community that does not build its solidarity on the scapegoating of outsiders." But he has some reservations about the success of this: "The bush legend still haunts [this novel], modified to include praise for those bush workers with a 'spiritual' feeling for nature. This reads like an attempt to sidestep rather than confront the role played by early settlers in displacing the Aborigines, who had a real claim to such feelings for the land."

Which reads like a criticism of what the book is not, rather than what it is. We have a novel here that is set during the time of the Second World War, rather than the 19th century.

"The Weekend Australian" considered that Lacey "uses brand names too often as proof of his research: the real period register in this fine novel resides in the emotional encasement of its characters". And "The Age" called it "...a well-researched historical drama that evokes an Australia that has long since passed away".

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 8, 2006 11:45 AM.

2006 Sydney Writers' Festival was the previous entry in this blog.

For Want of a Genre is the next entry in this blog.

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