A man waits outside a schoolyard and watches a young girl who, it seems, is his daughter, though she doesn’t know him. What appears to be an internal dialogue between the man and the child’s mother commences, set apart from the main text. It is a self-conscious narrative manoeuvre. The narrator, Jules Pyatt, after all has a thesis in English literature behind him (abandoned). He knows what narrative is all about, and he knows he wants to tell the story of his ‘Tazyrik year’, which belongs to a period several years before, when he was in his late twenties.
These two second novels are rapid follow-ups to acclaimed début novels, Anson Cameron’s Silences Long Gone and Michael Meehan’s The Salt of Broken Tears. Each is, in its own way, resolutely vernacular. Meehan writes about the past and the country; Cameron writes largely about the city, very much today.
In Tin Toys, nevertheless, the characters are very aware of the Australian past. The central dilemmas of Cameron’s novels concern relations between blacks and whites. In Silences Long Gone the narrator’s stubborn old mother refuses to leave her house in a mining town that is being dismantled so that the territory can be returned to its native custodians. In the new novel, the narrator is himself the focus of the dilemma, as the offspring of a white father and black mother (in very peculiar circumstances). He begins life as a black baby, becomes a white boy and ends up a slightly confused young adult. After an opening flashback the narrative is driven by two things that happen to Hunter around the same time. His design for an Australian flag (which he has come up with by complete accident) is selected as a finalist in a national competition and his Japanese girlfriend goes missing in Bougainville.
With her first novel (published in 1985 and now available in paperback), publisher and writer Stephanie Dowrick has created a long and uneven though often absorbing work, tracing the life of Zoë Delighty from birth to mature womanhood. It is a testament to the heroine’s survival of the vicissitudes of her active life, and her struggle to counter the malign influences of her girlhood which dog her through her attempts to engage herself creatively in life.