Posts Tagged ‘the taste of apple’

Book Review – Pulling Down the Stars by James Laidler

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

James Laidler is the author of the verse novel The Taste of Apple which won the IP Picks Best First Book award a couple of years back, and now he’s followed that up with his second novel, Pulling Down the Stars. The focus is on prose this time, although there are snippets of poems and even the occasional song. It’s a heartwarming read and one that I’d recommend to anyone, but particularly older teenage readers.

Charlie Lansdowne is a young man with a number of heavy burdens in his life: he has a job in nursing and a grandfather suffering dementia who needs constant supervision and high-level support. Consequently, he has little time for love and his main pleasure is his band. But even there he finds trouble as his best friend Kane, who is the band’s lead singer, uses Charlie in a number of unpleasant ways that soon sparks a falling out between them. Fittingly, Charlie writes the band’s songs but Kane not only sings them but claims the lyrics as his own. Charlie lives with his father Roger and grandfather Frank and the relationship between the three men is not always harmonious, as we soon discover.

Maxine, known to her friends as Pepsi Max, has problems of her own. She’s a young woman living with her parents and working at the local abattoir, and her main interest is surfing. A drunken outburst sets into motion a series of events and disclosures that threaten to tear her family apart entirely. Things are not right in her seemingly perfect family, and Maxine soon finds herself taken in by Roger and co. after she’s taken advantage of by Charlie’s friend, Kane.  Maxine and Charlie start off as close to arch enemies but their relationship thaws significantly as they get to know one another, and eventually Maxine comes to appreciate Charlie’s charms much more than those of the attractive but selfish Kane.

Pulling Down the Stars focuses on these two characters and we have viewpoint chapters from each of them, but the narrative does occasionally broaden to encompass peripheral characters too. Laidler writes confidently about occupations such as nursing and abattoir work, and there are a number of interesting sub-plots concerning Charlie’s dead mother, Maxine’s family and even that of a disgruntled co-worker who threatens to turn this at times into an entirely different kind of novel.

Laidler’s characters are warm and richly imagined and there’s an encompassing goodness to his worldview here, and due to the subject material I believe the novel would appeal to a teenage audience. There’s a subtext of social justice issues but Laidler never brings these fully to the forefront, leaving the reader to muse over the meaning of events as s/he chooses. This is the kind of novel that allows good to triumph over evil without violence in a way that leaves us feeling a little better about our place in the world. It’s a novel about constructing a sense of family and belonging amid situations that often serve to fragment us.

Pulling Down the Stars will be available from February 2013 from Hybrid Publishers.  You can read more about James Laidler and read an excerpt for The Taste of Apple on his website.

Book Review – The Taste of Apple by James Laidler

July 18, 2011 1 comment

The Taste of Apple is Australian writer James Laidler’s debut, a verse novel about the life and times of young Pedro Jones. It won the Best First Book category in Interactive Publications’ IP Picks Awards 2010 and was published by IP the same year. Firstly, you might be wondering what kind of beast a ‘verse novel’ is. I’d never read one myself, but I remember having a creative writing tutor once, Alan Wearne, who had written a number of them. Basically it’s a novel with characters, a narrative, visual description, and all the things you’d normally expect from a novel, except that it’s set out as a series of poems. The resultant work, in this case, is breezy, engaging and frequently heartmoving. I strongly recommend that you give The Taste of Apple a try.

Pedro Jones is a young man in nineties Melbourne trying to come to terms with his mixed Filipino and White Australian heritage. His unhappy family life is fractured forever, on Christmas Eve, when his father leaves the family to live in another part of Victoria. Pedro’s mother Imee, alone and impoverished, is left to raise Pedro with only her Catholic faith to guide her. They have to more to the seedy apartment block Eden Towers to survive.  Pedro meets Juan “Johnnie” Lazzaro, a young East Timorese man whose family life and personal circumstances are even more dire than Pedro’s. The boys become best friends, busking together on the streets of Melbourne and drowning their sorrows in alcohol.

The Taste of Apple is a dark book in many ways, but it’s never depressing, due to the optimistic tone and uplifting spirit herein. There are a number of shocking twists along the way, which I’ll try not to spoil here, but suffice to say that this is definitely a novel, even if it is set in verse, not a book of poems in the ordinary sense. As the narrative progresses, Pedro becomes drawn into the East Timor liberation movement, as he discovers that Johnnie himself is a survivor of the Dili massacre. Here we meet a colorful and memorable cast of characters, some of the strongest in the book. Pedro also learns about the healing power of gardening as he attempts to put his past, and specifically his absent father, behind him.

I doubt I’ve enjoyed reading a book this year as much as I enjoyed reading The Taste of Apple. The pages practically turn themselves; I’d challenge anyone to start reading this and not finish it. You can buy it from online sellers such as Amazon or The Book Depository. There is also an enhanced edition which you can read more about on the author’s website. I look forward to James Laidler’s next book with interest.