Book Review – Crush by Brenda Walker
Brenda Walker’s first novel, published in 1991, has the distinction of being the inaugural T.A.G. Hungerford Award winner. Set in Perth in the late eighties, it is a strange and slender novel of two people: a barrister named Tom O’Brien, and a writer called Anna Penn. The story is told in a distinctively dispassionate style that records details of everyday life, but not so often the emotions that everyday life causes people to feel.
I read somewhere that Walker completed her PhD on the work of Samuel Beckett before writing Crush, and I must say that the influence is clear here. Like in Beckett, things happen but it’s seldom certain whether any importance ought to be attributed to them. It’s appropriate that this is a kind of murder-mystery, but fans of that particular genre won’t find a great deal to grit their teeth on here. The mystery ends up being much closer to home for Tom than he had ever anticipated.
This review is sounding ambivalent, at least to my own ears, but there’s plenty to like here. For me, the most interesting aspect of this book was in the depiction of life in inner-city Perth in the late eighties. Like T.A.G. Hungerford did in “Stories from Suburban Road,” Walker has gone to some length to describe the details of the world of the time, and in doing so younger Perth-ites can gain an insight into the city that was. For me, this novel feels nostalgic, probably because I came to Perth in 1990 from England. The world Walker describes is the one I saw as an eight year-old boy, fresh off the plane.
Stylistically, Crush is strong. Despite what I would term an ’emotional vacuum’ at the heart of this novel, there’s plenty to keep the story chugging along. This is a short read, and it has been padded out over its 128 pages with blank pages and a picture which is repeated several times. The novel ends with Anna having left Tom’s house (not that they were in a relationship). She says, “I have listened, I have been touched, but now I am unmoved.” I might end this review similarly by saying: “I have read, I have understood, but now I am unmoved.”