I’ve been promising myself I’ll read more widely but yet again, I’ve been diverted by a new book closely related to the book I’m writing. In the case of Summer’s Gone, very closely related.
Summer’s Gone opens in Melbourne, 1967, the day Sergeant Pepper’s went on sale. An older Nick remembers his twenty-year-old self finding his girlfriend Helen dying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. We also learn that Nick has spent time in prison, before backtracking to Perth, 1964, where Nick meets sisters Helen and Alison and together with his friend Mitch, they form a folk band.
What follows is the telling of events leading up to Helen’s death and beyond, as the narrator visits old scenes of his youth and remembers what brought them all to the tragic climax.
Charles Hall grew up in Perth in the 1960s and played in a folk band, so he’s writing this story from personal experience and the period detail feels very authentic. The structure, revealing the climax and then revisiting what led to it, works well and I did want to keep reading to know what had happened. The characters for the most part are well drawn and I found myself caring enough about them to want to know their fate. There’s enough plot to drive the story forward.
But there’s a few flaws of a novice writer that jarred.
There’s lots of narrative and at times the story reads like a personal diary, with lots of details that don’t subsequently turn out to be important, and in themselves are just dull. Describing the red eye flight from Perth is one example. The dialogue is quite stilted and pedestrian with characters saying the mundane things that drag down scenes. Some of the dialogue is also just exposition disguised as dialogue, such as Nick telling Alison that they’re both under 21 and therefore can’t go into the pub – a good example of a character telling another what they already know. Its also an example of a clumsy way to plant a period detail.
There’s a long stretch where Nick and Alison hitchhike from Perth to Melbourne that lacks conflict and where nothing much happens. It could have been condensed down to the important parts without losing anything. And the scene where Helen, who is generally a fairly reserved girl, proposes a threesome with her sister and Nick, just felt like a middle-aged man’s indulgent fantasy, rather than having any bearing on the plot. There was also some repeated hints at Helen’s sexual problems that I was expecting to have some sort of significance, which unless I missed it, didn’t lead anywhere.
I was reading very closely to see if all the period detail meshed with what I’ve got in my story and happy to find that I don’t think I’ve included anything particularly misleading or out of place. My beta readers (the UK ones) who where there in London in the 1960s only found a couple of small things, so I think I’m ok on that front.
All of those criticisms aside though, Hall’s descriptions of places are excellent and there’s a lovely lyrical feel of country Australia throughout the story. And he really conveys an authentic sense of the times, the fears over the Vietnam war and the bind women were in with contraception. A good story but not great writing.