Rod Jones’s new novel, The Mothers, works on a number of levels. It provides a social and familial history of life in Melbourne’s working-class suburbs throughout the twentieth century while also telling the often moving stories of individuals connected across generations, usually mothers and children, battling to survive in adverse circumstances.
Reading Swan Bay, one is quickly struck by a sense of the familiar. A damaged, misanthropic man meets a damaged, unbalanced woman. He attempts to penetrate her almost mystical reserve and, in the book’s central flashback sequence, she recounts the past that has almost destroyed her. Back in the present, the truth of her account seems uncertain. The two achieve some sort of equilibrium. This narrative outline could equally be applied to almost any of the novels of Rod Jones.
A new novel from the author of Julia Paradise, of Prince of the Lilies, and most especially of Billy Sunday, aroused in this reader an excited sense of eager anticipation. Yet I was pulled up brutally short by Nightpictures’ opening sentence: ‘When we look at other people we either want to fuck them or kill them.’ It is not merely that the sententia of this sentence is demonstrably untrue, or that ‘either’ might be more elegantly placed after ‘want’, but that the sentence is, aesthetically speaking, brutal and ugly. Perhaps it is those ‘k’ sounds. This is, however, a novel narrated in the first person, and the qualities which distressed me may be those of its narrator, ‘Sailor’, who fulfils in his individual career his universal generalisation, and my reaction may be intended.