peteg's blog - noise - books - 2008 09 30 DeborahRobertson Careless

Deborah Robertson: Careless

/noise/books | Link

I've been meaning to read this for a long time now, on the strength of her short story collection, and was fortunate to find a copy in the UNSW Library.

Briefly, I struggled to get into it. The male characters are mostly shallowly treated, and those that do get fleshed out seem like low-grade automata. The foibles of the female characters are keenly observed, but generally not interesting; I couldn't make anything of a walk-in female character checking her skin in the mirror, and noting that the antibiotics have kicked in. Later referring to it in a pedestrian bedroom scene seemed like a waste of this reader's concentation. There is little character development, more an unfolding along rails predestined by narrative, a bit too tidy.

... and the narrative, well, it is mostly a series of still-lifes and flashbacks, descriptions of interior lives that are all effect without much analysis. Danish Sonia had an abusive mother, now long dead, and slept with her husband before she was in love with him. How does this substantiate a decision to move to Australia? We'll never know, for that is all we have to go on. All the other characters have shadowy histories — who is Pearl and Riley's father? — and one's curiousity is slowly stymied by the realisation there are not enough pages or plot devices left to unpack them all. Having so many rhetorical questions smacks of laziness, or perhaps there being too little in the tank after such stirling efforts on the technical fronts.

Robertson is at her best when she portrays the children at the centre and fringes of the novel, making a lot of her overarching concern of carelessness and the unthinking violence adults do to children's senses of how things should go. I can't help but think she would have been better writing this piece as a series of short stories rather than trying to tie it all together.