Reviewed by Ian Lipke
“Sometimes it takes letting someone else in to discover who you really are.” That line from the author is the key to the wonderful story that unfolds within the covers of this book. It’s a simple enough yarn. A boy in his universe focused on his own problems. A girl in a parallel universe tied to her responsibilities and not hiding herself away. An autistic child who is a mischievous imp. And then the universes collide and after misunderstandings and a lot of loving, the universes recede but not sever.
Has all that confused you. Well, let it not. Read some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read for a long time. Read to see how humour can convey emotion to a degree not often felt. How do you describe an autistic child who has to go to a disabled toilet with her sister, but gets great fun out of opening the door while her sister is left on the seat with her panties around her ankles in full view of everyone? You’d describe it as ‘differently normal’. A normal child who is different.
I must admit to being intrigued by, and envious of, an author who can produce such individually different yet fascinating people. I used ‘people’ advisedly as to describe Albert and Maddy and the wonderful Bee as anything less would be plain wrong. We meet Albert and his psycho father at the very beginning of Chapter 2. (The book is not broken into chapters per se but each is separated from the next by a name):
The old bastard is on to me.
The chapter heading, Albert, makes it a fair thing that the speaker is Albert, and the person spoken about is someone to whom Albert is responsible. It is Albert’s father. He proceeds to give Albert a dressing-down, a speech that Albert has christened ‘the respect speech’ that he knows by heart. To top off the humour, the father departs, the mother arrives and tries to convince Albert that his father banging-on was just a generational thing. Albert’s reply is one his mother prescribes to, “Hey, don’t call your father an asshole.” Her objection is half-hearted.
We’ve met Albert but know only a little about him. The author dribbles information for us to picture as the story develops. We’ve met his mother and worked out immediately the firm bond between the two. The father/husband is a character without substance as yet. The chapter continues giving out information about Albert and his home life and his present avocation of caring for horses. Then we meet Maddy and her charge Bee:
I tap her on the shoulder. “Bee, look at me. Have you had breakfast?” I ask again when she does, signing eating with my fingers to my mouth. She looks over my shoulder.
A reference to a video she has seen and is enough for her older sister to interpret her answer.
There follows some authentic description of conversation and of happenings. People will want to read this book because the characters are real. The interchanges are commonplace, the story proceeds as a love story can be expected to. And there is no haste. It is page 179 before Albert and Maddy have reached this stage:
We eat with our fingers as the juices run down our arms, and we toast each other with wine that tastes of summer nights [I wish I’d thought of that description. Reviewer]. I breathe in the deliciousness that is the seaside, and delight in the heady intoxication of his company.
The emphasis is on closeness and togetherness. The juice runs down our arms, they toast each other with wine bearing connotations of languid summer. They share a heady intoxication. Then in the next chapter they make love. The description that gets them to that point is authentic enough but its emphasis is on heady (as in the scene where she is on his shoulders and takes off her bra and throws it into the wind). This is young love, not staid couples who have done it all before. And what is the word to describe the scene? Fresh. Just that. Unspoiled by the world as all of us know it.
Then three days later (or ten pages) the cruelty of living returns.
The story of Albert and Maddy and Bee is poignant, fresh, loveable and tragic and told with the magical skill of Tammy Robinson, a writer from ‘over the ditch’ who has six novels to her credit and another due for release in 2019.
There are love stories that flounder for lack of air…then there are love stories that breathe along with us. This is one of the latter.
By Tammy Robinson
Hachette Australia/Hachette New Zealand
$29.99 (pbk); $4.99 (ebook); 350pp