Everybody Jam, Ali Lewis

So now I’ve finished, did this novel improve?

Unfortunately no!

It is entirely the fault of the narrator I think and just shows how hugely important the narrative voice is in a first person narrative. Here it is the voice of a thirteen year old boy and he just annoyed the hell out of me (and as a parent and teacher, I have quite a high threshold for teenage annoyance!)!

The episode where he stole a ute and drove into a stampede of cattle in order to save his camel left me speechless for all the wrong reasons! He needed a good slap for endangering himself, the cattle and the car. And if he told me once more that being allowed to do something adult made him feel “taller” I may have put the book on the fire!

The descriptions did improve from page 91: the descriptions of the cows being burned – reminiscent of foot-and-mouth pyres – were gruelling. But the language was almost completely bereft of adjectives or figurative language. I do accept that the choice of a down-to-earth home-educated teenage boy narrator limits the literariness of the writing but, even so!

And the obvious device of using the rain to conclude the book felt clumsy.

I also had a problem with the language here: there are many Australian slang terms littering the book but they didn’t strike me as authentic, more as if they had been shoehorned in to give a veneer of authenticity (to mix my own metaphors!). Cliche was also a difficulty here: Danny’s father seemed to speak in them which Lewis then highlighted by putting them in italics!. The rain at the end of the book, the pathetic fallacy of the deepening drought that reflects the deepening rifts within the family all struck me as cliched.

I feel I’m being unfair! This is not a bad book. I just did not gel with it. Two more on the Carnegie list to go!

Ok, I’ll be honest, I’m not thrilled with this book. It’s set in the Australian desert in a family run cattle station, not dissimilar to that shown in Baz Luhrman’s film Australia.

It is narrated through a first person voice of Danny, the middle son who is struggling to come to terms with his older brother Johnny’s death (apparently by falling off a roof, memories of The Archers’ Nigel Pargetter spring unbidden to mind) and his sister’s pregnancy.

Actually, that seems unfair: save for a couple of conversations and references the death and pregnancy have been hardly dealt with at all. Perhaps this is because 13 year olds do deal with things by ignoring them – mine does – but it means that the book seems to do no more than recount the day to day minutiae of ranch life… and it’s really rather dull!

And descriptions seem to be lacking. The butchering of the killer could have been described in detail but is instead only obliquely referred to. Again perhaps this reflects the matter-of-fact nature of death on a cattle station. Perhaps it is a nod to the sensibilities of a young adult audience (who have a stronger stomach than this book may assume).

Perhaps I am being unfair: I am only 91 pages into it. But I’m not gripped by the narrator or the writing …


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