Choccie Royal & a cuppa? Review The Fine Colour of Rust: Paddy O’Reilly

I had occasion to meet Paddy O’Reilly late last year. At the time I had to hide my gob-smacked ‘WOW A REAL WRITER’ sentiments as she awarded me my first major short story prize (see 10 Dec 2011 post The One that Won). What impressed me about Paddy was her no-nonsense, down-to-earth passion for writing. Here was someone who spoke to me seriously about my writing, was genuinely interested in my career as a writer and wanted to support me in achieving my publishing goals. What a cool drink of water!

This impression was reinforced when I again connected with Paddy at the Emerging Writers Festival in May. I was impressed she a) remembered me, and b) listened to how my writing was going without her eyes glazing over (not an experience I’m used to in daily life).

Paddy is one of Australia’s national treasures when it comes to literature. She’s won a stack of national and international awards with her long list of publishing credits. Over the past ten years her work has become an integral part of Australia’s cultural landscape (check out her website for the long version of her accomplishments).

It took me too long to get around to reading this book, but I’m so glad I did. Beforehand I’d been trailing through erotic fiction (including the notorious 50 Shades), so The Fine Colour of Rust came as a welcome relief from the adolescent ‘Holy crap – Whoa – Arrrrggghhh’ I’d been subjecting my poor mind to.

O’Reilly’s taste for all that is quintessential about Australian character is palpable in this book. It’s a relief to read about uniquely Australian characters without the sentimentality or stereotyping so common in Australian narratives. These people are flawed and funny and believable because of it. It’s a laugh out loud story filled with recognisable characters and laconic dialogue reminiscent of Sea Change (still one of my all time favourite TV series).

The main character, Loretta Boskovic, a self-proclaimed ‘old scrag’, thinks and speaks in vivid country town lingo. Having grown up in the country myself, there is much I recognise about the landscape, social mores and way of life at the centre of this story. It was like coming home to visit rellies I haven’t seen in a while. City life brings a pace and sophistication that has no place in a town like Gunapan (the fictitious town where Loretta lives), and it was nice to be able to put my guard down for a while and join in the scoffing of Chocolate Royals and tepid tea.

This book is filled with golden moments of insight and humour – from Loretta’s two inherited lawn mowers (goats) named Panic and Terror; to the hilarious account of Hector the butcher dismembering a cow carcass in an effort to impress a visiting Minister; to the heart wrenching effects of illness on Loretta’s special relationship with Norm the junk man. This book’s honesty is what makes it funny. The prose literally sparkles with wit and is littered with gems like this one:

‘…clustered around the small waterhole like ants at a droplet of sugar water.’

It was the kind of book I couldn’t wait to get back to, yet savoured slowly because I didn’t want it to end. Moreover, I highly recommend it as a perfect remedy for mental indigestion caused by over consumption of low-brow popular erotic fiction.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 21:12:35

    Lovely review of what sounds to be a most engaging, refreshing tale.


  2. Colleen Power
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 21:11:38

    Very refreshing Kate. Am looking forward to reading this – my sort of book. Thanks xxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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