One of the best books I read last year was ‘A World of Other People‘ by Stephen Carroll. Forever Young is the fifth of his Glenroy series, a collection of stand-alone stories that follow suburban couple Vic and Rita through much of Australian twentieth century history.
This story focuses on their son Michael, who is about to leave Australia to follow his dream to be a writer in Paris. The year is 1977 and Gough Whitlam is fighting his last election. Carroll’s style, which he describes as ‘circular’ in an interview he gave at the Sydney Writer’s Festival last year, is again deployed in this story. It is a way of restating, circling around and through an idea and playing with words to render it, by subtle repetition, in ever greater detail. It worked well for me in ‘A World of Other People’ but in this story, I found it wasn’t as effective.
Perhaps it was because I had a much stronger recognition of this world and I felt impatient to read about it in more detail and so the limited scenes felt a bit frustrating. And yet, despite the slow pace, there was still the clever plotting, that although limited, deployed such devastating cause and effect – the characters in this story don’t get away with their actions scot-free.
A lot of this story relies on the internal discourse the characters go through as they break up love affairs, make life-changing decisions and take revenge. And that aspect of it is enjoyable but I still wished for more and perhaps that was because the main characters seem only to interact with each other in a limited way. It really feels like a series of intersecting stories of a handful of main characters, none of whom is more dominant than another.
The theme of this story is all about growing up, leaving the past behind and how we remember. There were lots of great and true observations around these ideas but none of them felt surprising or unique to me. And so, though I thought the writing was great, I just found it difficult to engage with this story. Carroll has said in an interview that he was determined not to write social realism, of which he says its time has passed. Social realism is what I read and write and so perhaps that explains my ambivalence.