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August 2012

Christopher Koch, The Boys in the Island (1958).

Koch_island.jpg

This is a novel set largely in Hobart Tasmania with later chapters in Melbourne. It is a coming of age story about Francis Cullen. His boyish desire to fit in with other boys, his first girlfriend, his efforts to conform to the crowd, his mistakes. It is low key, no great dramas, but many small ones – such is life. The prose is attractive, perhaps forced now and again. But the descriptions of place are effective, and there is truth in the characters.

Francis falls under the spell of Lewie, he of massive self-confidence and little intelligence. Lewie’s ambition is a life of crime, but he is not capable of it. Instead he bullies his friends, steals pound notes from cripples, and dreams of the big time. The game of mutual malicious teasing seemed familiar to me from my boyhood though I left it behind, but not these lads.

Koch calls it 'The Game:' Francis ‘found himself, as the weeks passed, drawn into a game, the Melbourne game of double-cross which the girl Keeva had apparently invented, and which Lewie was fast learning, her ardent pupil.…… It was the game, to set traps, to hurt. You did not say what you were thinking. You did not let one another know what you were doing. You found ways of making fools of one another at every opportunity’ (p. 115).

Likewise, Lewie’s philosophy that everyone else is dumb, the proof being that they work, had a familiar ring from fellows I knew, and I am glad I know them no more.

The intrusion of the boy Shane, a much more intelligent and mature peer, seems forced and his final destruction is a distraction from the downward spiral Francis has committed himself to as the only means to escape… Escape what? He always says the Island, hence the title. But is seems that ‘the island’ stands for the small town life that awaits him. Though he never aspires to the life of crime he dutifully, though not always happily, follows Lewie. In Francis we see perhaps the perfect follower.

The aside when Francis worked in a factory and though but a boy himself took under his wing the deficient Athol was nicely done but contributed nothing to either plot or character that I could see.

It is out of print and I read a library copy.

I read it in anticipation of going to Hobart for the APSA conference 2012. I also read Peter Timms, In Search of Hobart (2009) which is not recommended.

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