out of time by Steve Hawke

Out of Time

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

When one reads the words ‘out of time’ the mind switches immediately to finishing a test or project, rushing to be at a certain place at a certain time, the parking meter or maybe something even more sinister.

In Steve Hawke’s novel, ‘out of time’ refers to Joe, an older man who fears he might end up with dementia like his uncle because he has started to forget things, such as where he parked the car. To make things worse his aunt cannot cope with her situation, as she said in her suicide note, ‘If I could do anything useful for George of course I would stay….But I can’t even get out there under my own steam any more. And to find my dearest man in nappies was too much’ (88).

Joe becomes obsessed with this fear which he tries to keep to himself. ‘If uncle Georgeness lies ahead, I refuse to go there’ (179). ‘The bit that freaks me out is the when. The when, the when, the when. Having the capacity – and the courage – to recognise it’ (180). When he eventually shares his fears with his wife, Anne, the months that follow bring a cycle of anger and recrimination, then reconciliation and sorrowful loving.

This story is not just about the fear of getting dementia.  The author uses this older couple and Joe’s best mate, Eric, to address several other issues that bring anger, frustration, shame, loss of confidence and feelings of being used in the older generation as well as retirement and interacting with Centrelink and Superannuation bodies. Also presented is the family dynamic when children choose a spouse who does not fit with parent’s expectations.

Joe’s wife, Anne, is worried for her husband and supports him in every way she can, but the bag he has prepared for ‘when’, really worries her and she is often loathe to leave him for long periods of time on his own. She is still teaching but yearns to go bush to study nature. The daughter, Claire, steps in to ensure that some of her parent’s desires can be met but she has problems of her own to work through. When she moves back home, Anne finds that she is living ‘one day at a time’. ‘Who’d have thought that having her girl back home would be so …So?… Between managing Joe, the needs of Claire, and of the kids, it seems that she is on the go every minute of the day; too many balls in the air, too many sensitivities to be catered for, too many contingencies to be considered. She feels frazzled nearly all the time’ (248).

Eric and Joe have been friends for a long time so Joe is surprised when Eric decides to take on a job in Sri Lanka. But greater surprises are in store for both of these men.

Steve Hawke presents believable characters, who could be the reader’s own parents or even the people next door. The storyline is presented in short chapters with sometimes quirky titles like, Mea Culpa, Maudlin, The Ficus and The Quease. The text is well spaced on the pages and broken up with dialogue or short paragraphs making it extremely easy to read. Within each chapter there are blocks of paragraphs separated by the infinity sign. This I thought added some humour considering the title of the novel. 

The story is set in Western Australia, an area well known by the author who lived there for many years, first in the Kimberly region and later in Perth. Both of these areas feature in this novel and the storyline covers a period of four years, 2003 – 2007.

out of time is the second novel by Steve Hawke, his first, The Valley, was published in 2018. He has also written stage plays and a children’s book, Barefoot Kids, which was published in 2007. His non-fiction works include Noonkanbah: Whose Land, Whose Law (1989), the biography Polly Farmer (1994) and A Town is Born: The Fitzroy Crossing Story (2013). This novel, out of time, dedicated to his mother, Hazel Hawke, who faced a very public battle with Alzheimer’s disease, is to be published next month.

I found this to be an honest look at life for people getting to retirement age. It is obvious that Steve Hawke has walked beside someone who has trod this trail, as the story is told with deep understanding of the issues presented. I am sure that readers of any age will gain a clearer insight into what life could really entail as we grow older. With this awareness and understanding of the emotional impacts on our older generation, maybe relationships between the different generations would be less bumpy.

out of time


Steve Hawke

Fremantle Press

IBN:9 781925 815283

$27.99; 296pp

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