The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Wow. My heart must be made of stone to give this book three stars.
Five years have passed since the days of Saving Francesca and Tom Mackee is a total mess. He's lost it all: dropped out of school, lost Tara Finke's heart, lost his uncle in a terrorist attack in London, lost all trust in his alcoholic's father, lost him mom and sister who moved to Brisbane and lost his mind getting high on various substances. He's lost his friends too, Francesca, Justine, Siobhan, Tara, Jimmy. Actually, he dumped them. Also... well, the story is pretty complicated and it involves all of his quite dysfunctional family, especially his father and aunt whose lives have changed after losing their brother and who need saving just as much as Tom. This is a book about redemption and how, after touching the bottom and even digging a little bit, it is through love that people can find and hope and trust in themselves to resurface.
The truth is, after reading Saving Francesca only a few days ago and knowing this book features the same set of characters, I was fairly sure it would be along the lines of the other book, with the same tenor.
I was very wrong though, this book is totally different from its companion which really, if you think about it, stands to reason, considering Francesca and Tom are two different people with different lives and therefore their stories are told with different voices.
Marchetta is, truly, a perfect observer of human emotions. She nails them down and describes them with a sharpness and simplicity that unsettle me . When I read some of the sentences all I could think was: Why didn't I think of this before? Some of my favorites:
"Come and have something to eat," he says quietly to Georgie. Tom notices that he does that a lot. Speaks quietly. It's almost as if Sam believes that if he raises his voice, she'll notice he's around and then she'll remember the past and tell him to get lost. So, these days, Sam speaks quietly.
It's the joy of smoking for him. Isolation doesn't have to be explained when you're leaning against a brick wall with a cigarette in your hand. Rolling your own is better. It takes more time, and Tom has all the time to spare.
Truly, this book is heartbreaking and so real, it makes me totally jealous of Tom because, even if his life is pretty messy and with his family with complications, I wish I had friends like his. True ones, who don't ask for anything back and see right through you.
So why the three stars?
Well, my first problem with the book came right at the beginning, when most characters are introduced. The more I kept reading, more names appeared, the more I got confused as to how the MacKee-Finch family was composed. I was even tempted to draw a kind of genealogical tree to figure out the details. Plus, I don't know if it was only me, but sometimes there were scene or dialogues where Marchetta indicates "his father" and in the room there are Tom, Bill and Dom and I couldn't really figure out who the author was talking about. Plus there's TOM, DOM, TOM Finch senior who died in Vietnam... a bit confusing to me, it took me almost 80 pages to finally fix all characters in my mind.
My second problem had to do with the narrative technique. This 3rd person alternating POVs - Tom's and Georgie's - did not work well for me. I've come to the conclusion that there are a few authors whose 3rd person I don't like and I am afraid that Marchetta might be one of them. Both Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca were in the 1st person and I found them brilliant. In this book, some scenes fell flat, awkward and I'm pretty sure it was because of the 3rd person.
Talking about awkward, I come to the last problem I had with the book. Because, to me, there were some undeniably awkward parts. I'm thinking it might have to do with symbolism and I don't do well symbolism. There were at least three different occasions in which talk of a damn table came up. Now, I might be interested in knowing Dominic was making a table out of wood in order to accommodate the whole extended family but that they have to have a family dialogue three times about it and just to say it needs to be finished, felt just outright weird to me. Was it because it might be that they felt the need to reunite their broken family? Was the table meant to be the symbol of said reunited family?
And that wasn't the only case; I might understand the deep and gut-wrenching grief the characters felt for Joe, died in a Tube terrorist attack in London. I did not understand the weird parallel Joe's and Tom Finch's death had, Tom Finch being the father of Dominic and Georgie, who had fallen in Vietnam some 30 years earlier and that they barely remembered. The importance of bringing his bones back to Australia, not only for the family but for his fellow soldiers as well was just a mystery to me, not to be disrespectful. Again there might be a certain parallel here between their inability to bring back Joe and their grandfather standing as a symbol but...
So for me, there were the parts with the friends, Francesca, Justine and Ned and the story with Tara - and let's not forget Mohrin the Ignorer - which were highly enjoyable, intelligent, witty, laugh out loud parts. I mean,
"Last night", their mother explains to Anabel patiently, "Tom received a call from Tara saying she was flying into Sydney an hour before he's flying out to Hanoi. So they are going to miss seeing each other because Tara will be gone by the time Tom returns. And they really want to see each other."
He was very impressed by his mother's ability to articulate it. In his head it had been a mess of WHAT? WHY? WHAT DID I DO? SHIT. FUCK. WHAT THE HELL?
And then there were the parts which concerned the MacKee-Finch family and those were different and somehow more confusing and less enjoyable to me and definitely more depressing. The Marchetta I love is in the other parts, in the other books.
I'll see what happens with Looking for Alibrandi.
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