Change for us came so unexpectedly. One day my father was stalking the family as he had done for most of our lives, skulking from room to room, accompanied by a menacing silence that we had long ago accepted. And then he was gone. Shadowboxing is a collection of ten linked stories in the life of a boy growing up in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in the 1960s. A beautifully rendered time capsule, it captures a period of decay, turmoil and change through innocent, unblinking eyes. Michael’s family, led by his long-suffering mother, live as though under siege, surviving his father’s drinking and rage as well as the forces of "urban renewal." Their neighborhood is a world of simple pleasures as well as random brutality; of family life and love as well as violence and tragedy. As Michael experiences all this with a combination of wonder and fear, he matures into a sensitive adult who can forgive but never forget. Shadowboxing is a riveting story of loss and permanence, power and weakness, stoicism and resistance. In the tradition of John Morrison, it captures the essence of working-class life in inner-city Australia. Written in a spare, understated style that carries a surprisingly powerful emotional impact, Shadowboxing is a brilliant debut.
"Tony Birch's debut Shadowboxing encapsulates what (Helen) Garner identifies as 'the dangerous and exciting breakdown of the old boundaries between fiction and non-fiction' . . . Shadowboxing also transcends the boundaries between the novel and the short-story collection." -- Ceridwen Spark, Sydney Morning Herald
"A Fitzroy childhood comes to life in Melbourne writer Tony Birch's impressive debut." -- Who magazine
"Stunning series of linked stories about growing up in '60s Fitzroy." -- Jason Steger, the Age
"These are stories whose universal themes are brought to the fore by lucid prose that, in bearing unblinking witness to hardship, sows the seeds of poetry, if not grace." -- Steve Gome, Australian Book Review
"There's a Hemingwayesque minimalism about this writing, but in Hemingway the pathos was reined in more. In the 10 linked stories in Shadowboxing, the pathos is often barely contained and the effect is quite shattering. . . . Birch's descriptions of the lower socio-economic world of inner Melbourne in the '60s are brilliant and he evokes, with a curious nostalgia, a claustrophobic world that anyone would be lucky to escape from unscathed. He has a great ability to pare down his prose, laying bare the raw flesh of the matter in the process. Despite their rigours, the stories are engaging, with flashes of larrikin humour. The book is even something of a page-turner at times, although the calamity of one page often leads only to heartbreak on the next." -- Phil Brown, the Australian