Monday, March 19, 2012
The Fine Colour Of Rust - reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino
What no one tells you when you start writing fiction is that you’ll be stuck in the style you pick - it’s what your publishers and readers will expect from then on. Very few authors get away with switching genres and those that do often opt to write their breakaway book under a different name. That’s why Australian Paddy O’Reilly, previously a literary author, decided to pen her latest novel The Fine Colour Of Rust (HarperCollins, $29.99) as P.A. O’Reilly. On her website she describes it as “a crossover literary-commercial book” but that’s possibly because she can’t bear to use the term chick-lit. While it may be smart, original and brilliantly funny, chick lit is still what I’d call it.
Set in the dusty backcountry town of Gunapan the star of the show is gloriously imperfect single mum Loretta Boskovic. Loretta dreams of dumping her kids at an orphanage and riding off into the sunset on a Harley with her fantasy man but the reality is she’s stuck in hot and hopeless Gunapan and the only man in her life is big-hearted junkyard owner Norm Steven. Resigning herself to becoming “an old scrag” she battles poverty, desertion and loneliness with a single weapon – humour
There’s an Erin Brockavich-style theme to the plot with Loretta’s campaign to save the local school and foil council corruption but that’s really only an excuse to have fun with the cast of larger-than-life characters and gently poke the borax at small-town life. This is a book with some wonderful vignettes – the Minister of Education’s visit to Gunapan is a stand-out – but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth. In fact, there is a lot going on here. It’s a story about friendship, acceptance, loss, about the slow death of small communities, about the difficulties of raising kids and the importance of standing up for what you believe in (even if that does involve bribing people with biscuits). Serious stuff mostly but O’Reilly gives a comic twist to nearly all of it.
Just like Loretta, the book isn’t perfect at times. O’Reilly risks overplaying some of her jokes and in the final pages there’s a sense she’s rushing to the finish. It wasn’t enough to spoil my enjoyment of the story but still it seemed a shame as these are small flaws that could have been fixed pretty easily.
If you ask me there’s too much bother and nonsense over whether a novel is literary or commercial or something in-between. If it’s good then it’s good, end of story. And for the most part The Fine Colour of Rust is a little Aussie cracker. The dialogue sparkles, as does the humour and Loretta is very fine company indeed. She might wear a bra so cheap it creaks and not always think before she opens her mouth but she’s gutsy and good for a laugh and having finished the book I missed her.
Hopefully Paddy O’Reilly will continue crossing over into commercial fiction and gives us more thoughtful, entertaining, top quality chick lit like this.
Nicky Pellegrino,(right NZH photo), a succcesful Auckland-based author of popular fiction is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above piece was first published on 18 March, 2012