Book title: Forever Young
Author: Steven Carroll
In the tumultuous period of change and uncertainty that was Australia in 1977, Whitlam is about to lose the federal election, and things will never be the same again. The times they are a changing.
Radicals have become conservatives, idealism is giving way to realism, relationships are falling apart, and Michael is finally coming to accept that he will never be a rock and roll musician.
At the Adelaide Writers’ Week in 2014, Carroll claimed that fun was really important to writing and that if you’re having fun as an author, it shows on the page. However, I’ve never seen evidence of that fun in his writing—though perhaps we would differ on what that word means. All I know is that when I closed Forever Young, I cried, not because of a poignant and beautiful ending, but because I felt depressed. Steven Carroll does this to me every time and I wonder why I continue to read him. In truth, I do now why I read his work, and why I cry, because he taps into places in my heart and soul that are tender and he presses and presses.
Michael is the central character in this novel, but more by way of his connection or near connection with the other characters who steal the limelight from him in their individual chapters. A couple of my favourites:
Mandy, is soon to become Michael’s ex to the soundtrack of 10CC’s ‘I’m not in love.’ Later, after an accident, she learns that she has lost a six week old baby that she didn’t know she was carrying: ‘ ... to be both born and to die, and for nobody to know, is to be alone at the beginning, the end and in between.’(209)
Rita, Michael’s mother spontaneously hops on a tram to the beach rather than turn up, as she had for years, to her job in a Melbourne department store. That small step propels her on a journey to the other side of the world, but in a concrete suburb outside Venice she ponders ... ‘All of her life it’s been like this —this giving that becomes a point of pride ... lived for other people, other people’s lives, as if her own were unimportant ... As if there were always some greater good to which she readily deferred and which defined her. Moulded her. To the point that she can stand here in a foreign street, on the other side of the world years afterwards, and it can still claim her.’ (255)
Much is made of the Whitlam years, for good reason and with its end is the knowledge that, ‘things will never be the same again,’ but we have another perspective when seen through Rita’s eyes: ‘And when she looks at the poster of Whitlam, he has, she notes—for all the grandeur of his bearing ... that goodbye look in his eyes. And she notes, at the same time, that he was always theirs really. This Whitlam of theirs, Michael and his kind. He was always theirs more than hers ... and all of them, Michael and his kind, have cut their hair and the young women aren’t wearing overalls any more. And what does that mean?’ (319)
Carroll’s ease of prose, the repetition of phrases, his poignant insights into the beauty of the ‘everyday life’ that it is never so ordinary, and the capturing of Australian culture in, arguably, the most significant period of its social and political history makes Forever Young an excellent read.
Rating: Four star: Definitely add to your reading list.