by Malcolm Knox
Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 487 pp
Malcolm Knox told Kill Your Darlings in 2012 that with The Life (2011), his celebrated surfing novel set on the Gold Coast, he wanted to write a historical novel about the Australian coastline and ‘that moment when one person could live right on the coast on our most treasured waterfront places, and then all of a sudden they couldn’t’. In Bluebird, set on a northern beach a ferry ride from ‘Ocean City’, this brutally undemocratic transformation is promoted from a minor theme to the engine that drives the highbrow soap-opera narrative.
Gordon Grimes and his wife, Kelly, separate in the aftermath of their shared fiftieth birthday party, at which Kelly sleeps with Gordon’s best mate, Dog. Kelly takes their fifteen-year-old son Ben and moves from their rented ex-housing commission house to The Lodge, the childhood home she hates and Gordon loves, as the community hub of his own childhood. A crumbling beach shack bordered by mansions, The Lodge is two-thirds owned by Kelly’s hated stepmother, Leonie, who gifts Gordon a third on the occasion of the separation, propelling him into The Lodge with his goddaughter, Lou, in tow – and an obviously doomed, hopelessly under-resourced mission to save The Lodge from the ravages of time, and defend it against ‘the real enemy, the money that landed in Bluebird freshly laundered and itching to renovate’.