Saturday 10 September 2011

REVIEW - 'The Piper's Son', Melina Marchetta (Penguin, 2010)

Thomas Mackee is twenty-one and struggling to cope with a family meltdown. Turning to his troubled aunt for a place to stay when he has burnt all other bridges, he is forced to interact with the group of friends he abandoned at his lowest point. Can he manage to pull all the pieces of his life back together again?

The companion piece to the excellent 'Saving Francesca', this story picks up on the previously supporting character of Tom. Before he was a joker, loveable, immature, laid back. Here, five years later, he is laid back to the point of being commatose, determined to destroy any ties with anyone or anything hew used to hold dear.

'The Piper's Son' traces how and why this young man came to take such a path of destruction and whether he has the desire to turn things back around again.

I adored 'Saving Francesca', so was itching to find out what happened to these characters. This is a much more complex novel than its predesessor, dealing with adult themes in a challenging and confronting manner - Tom lost his Uncle Joe in the 7/7 London bombings, a loss felt deeply by his unpredictable, alcoholic father, Dominic and his rock-solid but teetering-on-the-edge aunt, Georgie. Two years later, the family still has not recovered, Georgie is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend and they are all preparing for the return of the body of Tom's grandfather, lost to the Vietman war when he was only, like Tom, twenty-one.

Blimey, this is a difficult book to review. Complicated family set-up would be an extreme understatement. Add to that the predicament with Tom's former friends - the Francesca of the original taking the lead in this group. And then there's Tara Finke. The one that got away. Or, in this case, the one that Tom dropped like a hot potato when everything went tits up.

Aaaahhhh! Is that enough back story for you?

Anyway, the surprise here was the use of dual perspective. Not only do we get Thomas's side (naturally) but with also get's Georgie's part of the story. This is a very smart move from Marchetta. Although this is technically classed as YA and Georgie is a forty-two year woman (Thomas couldn't exactly be classed as a teenager here either), but FAMILY is the key theme here, and without Georgie's perspective, this story could be very hollow indeed. You need to give the reader the background to Thomas's story and Tom isn't necessarily the one to give it.

It goes without saying that this author is ambitious but more than meet the challenge she seems to set. Again, such strong voices and powerful set-pieces. The prose is intense and beautiful. The potentially tricky problem of introducing a sex scene into YA is handled with such skill and subtlety, without losing any emotion. Genius!

What else can I say? She's great, the book is fantastic. Read it. (After you've read Saving Francesca). (Although it does work as a stand alone book, so you don't really have to... Only if you want to). (But you really, really should, you know).


  1. I loved this book times approximately infinity! Wasn't it so great? I definitely agree that the prose was beautiful--I just adore Marchetta's writing style! Great review!

  2. Thanks! I went to one of her writing workshops recently and found out she is in the process of adapting Jellicoe Road for the screen - I nearly fainted!

  3. OOh. I'm thrilled to hear the Jellicoe Road film news! And also? I love this book. I haven't reviewed it on my blog though, despite reading it a few months ago because it all just seems too complicated and personal and I just felt too many emotions when I read it to properly describe it. But I thought you did a great job :)

  4. I know what you mean about trying to review a book that you love so much - I can end up sounding too gushing this generally doesn't make very interesting reading for everyone else! I'm glad you enjoyed it