Allen & Unwin, 371 pp, $16.95 pb
Paul Radley’s novels are about loss and growth. The first, the prize-winning Jack Rivers and Me, showed how ‘Peanut’ was forced to shed his imaginary companion as a part of his joining the world of school. My Blue-Checker Corker and Me dealt with a twelve-year-old boy’s reaction to grief at the loss of his racing pigeon. Now, in his latest, he takes us through five years in the lives of two mates from just before they leave school until one of them dies in the mud of New Guinea. The setting of the novel is again his fictitious township of Boomeroo, but the time is now the late thirties and first years of the war.
A great part of the book is devoted to the boys’ discovery of sex. It is described joyously, extensively, specifically. Boomeroo is a small town, where everyone knows everyone else in most senses of the word, and the growing boys soon learn that it is large enough to offer every variety of physical sex. Yet the novel is not about sex – it is about people finding themselves in a world where their inner sensibilities are dominated by the external demands of family, work, war, and above all by their own veracious bodies.