Book Review: BLUEBIRD by Malcolm Knox
Longing, regret, redemption and decades of secrets...
I am sure that most of us have, at some point, looked at the cover of a book and said, “I want to read that!”
Yeah. I thought so.
Last year I found myself called up for Jury duty and everyone advised me that there was a great deal of waiting involved while the selection process was carried out, therefore taking a book wasn’t a bad idea. So, on the appointed day, I decided to call into a local department store to pick up some reading material just in case it looked like I would be sitting there twiddling my thumbs for hours on end.
As I browsed the new release section a cover jumped out at me . . . tanned, blonde-haired surfers, a golden beach, rolling waves, it looked perfect to me. I picked it up and read the blurb on the back cover, which sounded interesting, then opened up to a random chapter.
What Benjamin Grimes couldn't tell anyone, more than he couldn't tell them how often he wanked or who he thought about while he did (seven to eleven times a week, Japan Ned, Tonsure Man, occasionally Dog's wife Sally, briefly the six-time state champ and back to Japan Ned), was that he still believed he would play cricket for Australia.
‘Okay then,’ I thought. ‘This certainly looks interesting.’
As I was short on time I headed for the checkouts and paid for my purchase, then set off for the Court House, only to be told I needed to go to another venue, which was thanks to Covid restrictions. Making it just in time I checked in, then I was asked to wait in the lounge area with the other prospective jurors. I found a seat, opened the book and began reading.
Unfortunately on that day my reading experience was rather short lived, as I was soon joined by a friend who had also been called in, so we ended up chatting while we were waiting.
When I finally made it home (after not being needed) I put the book aside. It wasn’t until some time later that I finally picked it up again.
As it turns out, Benjamin Grimes was not the primary character in the story. He was the gay, socially awkward, teenage son of the main character, Gordon Grimes, himself a former Newspaper editor who has now saddled himself with the task of saving the last relic of a disappearing world; a decaying house, The Lodge, perched on a spectacular stretch of coastline in a suburb of Ocean City (a.k.a. Sydney), overlooking Bluebird Beach.
As I read through the early chapters I do have to admit that I did at first struggle to come up with an idea of what the story was about. Was it about a house? Was it about a man? Or was it about his family? Maybe it was about a community? Or could it have been about times gone by and characters who were wanting to hold onto a lifestyle that was rapidly disappearing?
The truth is, it was about all these things, though with each chapter being narrated by different characters, including at times a rather curious seagull, it was initially a little difficult to connect the dots. The more I delved into the story, however, the more I knew I couldn’t put it down, as I became more and more invested in the eclectic bunch of characters, their history, and the world in which they lived.
Through humour and satire and evocative writing the author has created a story that is quintessentially Australian, with characters that we can all identify with, from the true-blue surfer guy, the chisel-jawed firefighter, the old-school Aussie-battler, to the cricket-obsessed teenage boys . . . amongst many others.
Yet surrounded by these bizarre but charming characters, each struggling in their own way with what is going on around them, Gordon Grimes’ focus remains fixed upon his goals to be a better father, a passable son, and to protect that which he cherishes most of all: the legacy of a Bluebird that has existed since his childhood.
Ultimately Bluebird is a story about a certain kind of Australia that we all recognise, an Australia that seems to be disappearing as progress takes over. Change is coming to Bluebird, whether they (Gordon and his family and friends) like it or not. The secrets they have been keeping and the lies they've been telling are about to bubble to the surface. Will those who sought to preserve these myths end up being crushed by them, or will reason prevail?
I can definitely say that discovering those secrets and finding the answer to that question was an entertaining ride.
If there was one thing I would have loved to have seen, however, it would have been more exploration of the character of Ben, after all, it was my initial attraction to this token gay character that sealed the deal while shopping for something to help pass the time.