Domestic violence is an everyday reality for tens of thousands of women in Australia. Recent horrors and public campaigns have raised awareness of this social scourge. Journalists have written extensively on the subject, yet it is novelists, as Michael Sala shows in The Restorer, that can give us a more acute view of the emotional complexities that bind couples and keep women in threatening domestic situations.
The Restorer begins with Richard sitting outside his front door. A car towing a trailer laden with household goods pulls up outside the dilapidated property next door. Richard observes the new arrivals: a hesitant, slightly built woman; a gruff and muscular man; an awkward teenage girl; a boy kicking a discarded can. ‘Welcome to Newcastle,’ Richard says, only to be greeted with a stare, which causes ‘a prickling unease that reminded him of being singled out at school’.
This is one of two parenthetical chapters told from Richard’s perspective. The others alternate between the mother, Maryanne, and her fourteen-year-old daughter, Freya. The first chapter establishes the outsider’s point of view: that of the reader observing and judging, though powerless to intervene. We are not so much in the heads of Maryanne or Freya as looking over their shoulders, wanting to grab them and drag them from harm’s way.