The Shark Net
Viking, $35.00 hb, 358 pp
‘I’d spent my childhood and adolescence on this sandy moonscape. I was sure I had something to say about it. I just didn’t know what.’ The book is Robert Drewe’s response to that thought. It is, as he says, a portrait of a place and time. The place is Perth; the time the fifties; the portrait is so very sharp, atmospheric, brutal, and deeply moving. There is a strange and haunting sweetness in the voice of the narrator, a clean, wondering charm. The subtitle of the book is ‘memories and murder’ and, like ghastly mutilations discovered outside the shark net, the murders and other horrible deaths drift before our startled eyes. The prose is spare and yet poetic, the facts and the images, and the underlying fabric of horror providing a rich weird sense of heightened reality. And the structure of the work itself is seductive, with scenes selected from personal domestic life playing against the larger dramas of crime and accidental death. In spite of all this I sometimes laughed aloud, often with a laugh of recognition at a locution or a turn of events that brought back live memories of the time. Then there were things I wish I had heard when I was a child: ‘Why don’t you go and dip your left eye in lukewarm fig jam?’ Need I say I also wept.