Sonya Hartnett's third novel for adults is perfectly formed and utterly compelling, an unflinching and disquieting work from one of Australia's finest writers.
Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian live in a world of shiny, new things – skateboards, slot cars, train sets and even the latest BMX. Their affluent father, Rex, has made sure that they'll be the envy of the new, working-class suburb they've moved to. But underneath the surface of the perfect family, is there something unsettling about the Jensons? To the local kids, Rex becomes a kind of hero, but Colt senses there's something in his father that could destroy their fragile new lives.
'Hartnett does a wonderful job of depicting the sometimes brutal world of childhood that runs parallel to, and occasionally intersects with, the world of adults.' Books and Publishing
Read Caroline Baum's Review
Colt and Bastian have all the coolest toys in the suburban neighbourhood they’ve just moved to. Bikes that make local boys envious, and a new swimming pool that’s a social magnet. But something makes it hard for the brothers to make friends and be accepted. Is it something to do with their dentist father Rex and his over-friendly manner? Freya, on the cusp of womanhood, does not think so. She thinks Rex is wonderful, even in his barbecue apron. She likes the way he’s a smiling father, not a drunk like her own dad.
This is a deft, unsettling story that rumbles with menace like a distant electric storm. It’s a dark edgy tale of class, submerged and repressed desire, suburban rumours, marital disappointments and tensions, as fragile adolescents try on the postures of adulthood.
About the Author
Sonya Hartnett's work has won numerous Australian and international literary prizes and has been published around the world. Uniquely, she is acclaimed for her stories for adults, young adults and children. Her accolades include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Of A Boy), The Age Book of the Year (Of A Boy), the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (Thursday's Child), the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for both Older and Younger Readers (Forest, The Silver Donkey, The Ghost's Child, The Midnight Zoo and The Children of the King), the Victorian Premier's Literary Award (Surrender), shortlistings for the Miles Franklin Award (for both Of a Boy and Butterfly) and the CILP Carnegie Medal (The Midnight Zoo). Hartnett is also the first Australian recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (2008).
In 2014, Hartnett published a new novel for adults, Golden Boys, and her third picture book, The Wild One.
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Comments about Golden Boys:
I feel that Sonya Hartnett must have some experience of domestic violence. She captured the drunken father and his antics to a tee. I couldn't believe some of her observations - it was as though I had written the words myself. I really identified with the kids and mother in this book. It takes a while for it to start to unravel but the story is very good too. I enjoyed it despite the domestic violence.
Comments about Golden Boys:
Although this book is marketed as adult fiction and is a must read for all teachers, it still could be a powerful text to both have in your school library and to use in class with students in years nine and upwards. Enjoy the reading then you're sure to think about using it in an education context. For adults who have read Hartnett's fiction before, the slowly emerging menace in the story is more easily felt. The "golden boys" are Colt, 12 and his younger brother Bastian, sons of their dentist father, Rex who has moved his family one more time. The opening event where Rex is teasing his sons about his latest gift of a bike sets up the power plays between all the male characters throughout the novel. Rex enjoys being "the father of envied boys". His move to an outer suburb ensures that the envy will be successful in crowding the house with the local boys from poor families, drawn in by the masses of toys that surround Colt and Bastian. When Rex adds a swimming pool to the house, those of us who will never forget Hartnett's 2002 novel Of a Boy are filled with foreboding. I have to ration my reading to 30 pages a day so that I don't devour the book in one sitting.
Rex's sons attend an expensive private school, far away and beyond the comprehension of the working class family of Freya, also 12 and her numerous siblings, Declan, Syd, Marigold and Peter, while there is always another baby coming. Rex introduces the boys to Freya's mother as they leave the church after Sunday mass and, as Freya contrasts them to her own active and noisy brothers, Colt and Bastian stand "placid as giraffes".
Two other boys complete the cast: Avery has street cat instincts, hates his guardian grandfather but has "the freedom of neglect" while Garrick, who enjoys bullying and is older and larger, comes from a family everyone is terrified of. Bastian, who "looks like a collectable doll" and Colt "like a boy pulled from a cereal box" are easier victims than Avery who has the street skills to avoid and escape more serious harm.
Over one month in the lives of the two contrasting families, Hartnett, with her sharp-eyed observation easily gains my empathy as I read inside her characters' heads in her gripping present tense narration. Both Colt and Freya are at that age where they begin to see their parents as people with faults and weaknesses. Freya is losing both God and her parents as she finds a confidante in Rex. Syd, being younger, wonders why Freya is telling Rex family secrets about their drunken, abusive father. Declan and Colt are also beginning to understand. Declan finds Rex "just a bit strange. Don't go there alone, Syd." However, Colt sees that the toys are "for him", "not us" and develops a growing but suppressed rage of suspicion and betrayal.
The tension laden climax does involve the pool in an oblique way as Hartnett, with her typically memorable imagery and the kind of sentence progression that reads effortlessly and disguises the writer's labour, produces an event which in retrospect has inevitable, dramatic power. Simultaneously (and this is her great skill) there remains the subtlety of the relationships which reverberate in my mind as I keep questioning what really happened and what effects it had and will have on the lives of these characters as they look towards adulthood.
Comments about Golden Boys:
I gave this as a gift. Also recommended it to friends. A rare treat of a novel.
Praise for Butterfly:
'Exquisitely written - you end up re-reading sentence after sentence - and unforgettable.'
'A heart-stopping representation of adolescent girlhood, as strange and riddling and true as fiction gets.'
'Lucid yet beautiful, compassionate yet unflinching, enigmatic yet touching, sometimes tragic sometimes funny ...a writer at the height of her powers.'
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 27th August 2014
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.4 x 2.1
Weight (kg): 23.5
Edition Number: 1