Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Torch - Peter Twohig (2015)

Peter Twohig’s book The Cartographer (2012) hit the right note with book buyers and became a run-away popular fiction success. Set in the year 1959 in Richmond, a working class suburb of Melbourne, it featured an eleven year old boy who took shelter in the drains and lanes of the city to escape the man responsible for a murder he accidentally witnessed. The Torch begins shortly after the end of The Cartographer and the child protagonist is one year older and is, you guessed it, up to shenanigans in the drains and lanes of Richmond, this time seeking the kid known as Flame Boy before he, gasp, strikes again.

The Torch begins well enough, with the un-named protagonist (he refers to himself variously as The Spirit of Progress, The Railwayman, The Ferret and is called the Blayney Kid by most of the adults) having to move with his mother to his grandfather’s house due to their home having been burnt down by, you guessed it, Flame Boy. Unfortunately it’s not long before the flaws of this novel become all too apparent. There are a multitude of characters, literally hundreds; most are incidental and many are caricatures of what is supposed to be your typical Australian of 1960. As the book progresses there just seems to be no end to them, causing the principal characters to get lost in the general commotion. The Blayney Kid’s narration is chock full of Australian colloquialisms that are initially endearing, but soon become so irritating that the inward groaning starts to become audible. The attempt at giving the Blayney Kid some psychological depth with his angst over his twin brother’s death and his nascent romantic adventures fall flat. All the fires, car crashes and marauding criminals could have had more impact if the narrative had more tension, instead the same tone persists throughout. The rather flimsy plot, of which I do not wish to go into because, frankly, it’s just not worth it, is stretched out like an old rubbery elastic-band across the novel’s 457 pages. In the end, despite some faint hope, nothing truly significant is revealed and you look at your watch and think, my god I’m still alive (I’ll be putting in these blatant Bowie references for some time to come).

The Torch was selected by my library book club members, perhaps due to the success of The Cartographer, but at the meetings many were underwhelmed and disappointed and seemed to be enjoying their coffees much more than the book they had to trawl through. Perhaps if this shaggy dog tale had been more rigorously edited and had lost about half of its length it could’ve been a contender. The Torch came close to becoming only the second book on this blog to be rated as ‘reprehensible’, but it was saved by the fact that The Finkler Question was just so awful that other books have to try really hard to be its equal.

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