The Restorer, by Michael Sala

Newcastle author Michael Sala made a splash with his debut novel The Last Thread (Affirm Press, 2012).  It won the NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing 2013, and the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Pacific Region in the same year.  That success was followed by The Restorer (Text Publishing, 2017), which in 2018 was longlisted for the Miles Franklin, and nominated for both the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, and the ABIA Small Publishers Book Award.  The novel is a tense portrait of a dysfunctional family… The book is set in 1989.  That was the year when the Berlin Wall crumpled under the onslaught from ordinary people; when the Chinese pro-democracy movement was crushed in the massacre in Tiananmen Square; and when the Newcastle earthquake killed thirteen people, hospitalised 160, and made 1000 people homeless. Allusions in the novel to these tectonic events suggest the complexities of ‘restoration’: East and West Germany were subsequently restored to unity with some fractures remaining even now; the Chinese government restored a widely condemned and uneasy order in China over the bodies of the protestors; and the earthquake created the imperative for restoration even though things could never be the same, not least for the injured and bereaved. Sala’s novel mirrors these events. Maryanne tries to ‘restore’ her family, to bring them back together after separation but she finds that their shared history doesn’t mean they have enough in common to thrive.  Her authoritarian husband Roy tolerates no dissension and enforces his will with violence; and efforts to restore the family to its earlier days cannot make things the way they were. The story is told through three voices: Maryanne, vacillating between standing up to her husband and letting her love for him take precedence; her daughter Freya whose coming-of-age is marred by the constant conflict at home and her own risk-taking behaviour; and — bookending the novel — Richard, a gay neighbour, who performs the role of the bystander who defers intervention until its too late. It’s relevant that he’s gay because it demonstrates Roy’s ridiculous jealousy and inability to trust his wife. There’s little backstory to explain why Roy is as he is, but the scenes featuring teenage boys and their sense of entitlement are an indication of how misogyny is reinforced by the prevailing culture.  There’s a teacher who tries her best to intervene, but most of their worst behaviours do, of course, take place out of sight, and anyway, she’s powerless. These boys appraise the girls’ bodies, they objectify them as sexual beings available for their use, and make insulting remarks and humiliate the girls as a way of establishing their own status among the other boys.  This characterisation is a vivid portrait of the way Roy’s hyper-masculinity has been formed. Newcastle, or the part of it depicted in the novel, is shown to be the kind of place that predetermines fate by postcode.  It’s not just that the teachers have the hopeless task of trying to engage students with no ambition except to leave school, it’s also that shoplifting, drug use and alcohol abuse are routine.  Suicide and murder are not uncommon either, and these elements heighten the tense atmosphere and the sense that a violent conclusion is inevitable. The book was published five years ago, but its relevance to issues of domestic violence is just as relevant today. Author: Michael SalaTitle: The RestorerCover design by Sandy Cull, gogo GingkoPublisher: Text Publishing, 2017ISBN: 9781925355024, pbk., 342 pagesSource: Personal library, OpShopFind $3.00

The Restorer, by Michael Sala

Newcastle author Michael Sala made a splash with his debut novel The Last Thread (Affirm Press, 2012).  It won the NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing 2013, and the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Pacific Region in the same year.  That success was followed by The Restorer (Text Publishing, 2017), which in 2018 was longlisted for the Miles Franklin, and nominated for both the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, and the ABIA Small Publishers Book Award.  The novel is a tense portrait of a dysfunctional family…

The book is set in 1989.  That was the year when the Berlin Wall crumpled under the onslaught from ordinary people; when the Chinese pro-democracy movement was crushed in the massacre in Tiananmen Square; and when the Newcastle earthquake killed thirteen people, hospitalised 160, and made 1000 people homeless. Allusions in the novel to these tectonic events suggest the complexities of ‘restoration’: East and West Germany were subsequently restored to unity with some fractures remaining even now; the Chinese government restored a widely condemned and uneasy order in China over the bodies of the protestors; and the earthquake created the imperative for restoration even though things could never be the same, not least for the injured and bereaved.

Sala’s novel mirrors these events. Maryanne tries to ‘restore’ her family, to bring them back together after separation but she finds that their shared history doesn’t mean they have enough in common to thrive.  Her authoritarian husband Roy tolerates no dissension and enforces his will with violence; and efforts to restore the family to its earlier days cannot make things the way they were.

The story is told through three voices: Maryanne, vacillating between standing up to her husband and letting her love for him take precedence; her daughter Freya whose coming-of-age is marred by the constant conflict at home and her own risk-taking behaviour; and — bookending the novel — Richard, a gay neighbour, who performs the role of the bystander who defers intervention until its too late. It’s relevant that he’s gay because it demonstrates Roy’s ridiculous jealousy and inability to trust his wife.

There’s little backstory to explain why Roy is as he is, but the scenes featuring teenage boys and their sense of entitlement are an indication of how misogyny is reinforced by the prevailing culture.  There’s a teacher who tries her best to intervene, but most of their worst behaviours do, of course, take place out of sight, and anyway, she’s powerless. These boys appraise the girls’ bodies, they objectify them as sexual beings available for their use, and make insulting remarks and humiliate the girls as a way of establishing their own status among the other boys.  This characterisation is a vivid portrait of the way Roy’s hyper-masculinity has been formed.

Newcastle, or the part of it depicted in the novel, is shown to be the kind of place that predetermines fate by postcode.  It’s not just that the teachers have the hopeless task of trying to engage students with no ambition except to leave school, it’s also that shoplifting, drug use and alcohol abuse are routine.  Suicide and murder are not uncommon either, and these elements heighten the tense atmosphere and the sense that a violent conclusion is inevitable.

The book was published five years ago, but its relevance to issues of domestic violence is just as relevant today.

Author: Michael Sala
Title: The Restorer
Cover design by Sandy Cull, gogo Gingko
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9781925355024, pbk., 342 pages
Source: Personal library, OpShopFind $3.00