Arkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing
Random House AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
It’s been a year since Arkie Douglas’s husband left her and her business crumbled. She fled Sydney for Byron Bay and now she’s waiting for the train to go through with the intention of throwing herself under it. For a while she’s alone but then a young Japanese girl named Haruko turns up. After some time there together, they discover that the trains stopped going through Byron Bay well over ten years ago. By then Arkie no longer wants to throw herself beneath one and she hires Haruko almost immediately. Arkie used to be a trendspotter and forecaster and she seems something very special in Haruko. Having lost her mojo, maybe Haruko is the way in which she can get it back.
Listening to Haruko talk about pilgrimages in Japan to visit the temples gives Arkie and idea. She doesn’t have the money to go to Japan but instead she’s going to do her very own Australian pilgrimage and what’s more Australian than visiting all of the Big Things? Australians have long had a fascination for building Big Things – they’re everywhere. The Big Pineapple. The Big Banana. Everyone knows those. But there are so many more and Arkie is going to visit them all. With Haruko as her guide, she’s sure she can find her way back to the path of enlightenment.
Arkie’s small budget isn’t the only thing complicating her pilgrimage. She’s being chased by a lawyer determined to serve her with the divorce papers that Arkie doesn’t want to accept. That makes her think of her husband Adam and how it all came to fall apart. If Arkie can get her mojo back then maybe she might be able to get that other area of her life back on track too.
I’ve read both of Lisa Walker’s previous books and really enjoyed them so I was excited to read this, her third novel especially when I read about the premise. Arkie is always looking for the ‘next big thing’ and that combined with the idea of the Japanese pilgrimage was awesome. I love the Big Things – who doesn’t?! For me they’re such a quintessential part of the Australian holiday experience and what better to be the ‘next big thing’ than actual Big Things. I’ve seen a few in my life – I grew up a couple hours south of the Big Banana which is one of the more famous ones and I’ve also seen the Big Oyster, Big Prawn, the now closed Big Bull and my family holidayed in Queensland a fair bit which ticked off the Big Pineapple. It was just last year that I stopped for fuel at the Big Merino at 3am in Goulbourn but it was still proudly visible. The idea of visiting some 88 Big Things sounded like so much fun! I wanted to learn more about the Big Things I didn’t know that much about and I love road trip books a lot.
I had sympathy for Arkie in the beginning even though I thought she might not be very bright – I knew the trains had stopped in Byron Bay long ago and they’re unlikely at this stage to ever resume. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt as I grew up on the North Coast line but anyone who’d been there more than probably a day would be able to to recognise the station wasn’t in use. Two people turning up to catch a train that hadn’t stopped in ten years seemed a bit far fetched. My sympathy for Arkie also quickly waned when I learned the true reason for her marriage breakdown. I find that a really difficult topic to read about and I also find it really difficult to feel sorry for people who indulge in it and then wonder how it all came crashing down. It’s obvious how it all came crashing down and Arkie was too selfish and self-absorbed to really focus on the person that she had wronged and hurt. She was instead caught up in her own little world. Despite her mistakes I did end up liking Arkie and her journey sounded like such fun. I wanted her to start to sort her life out, to get back to doing what she did best and forget about the reason for her marriage ending. It seemed it was too much on her mind, even though it had already been over a year. The story with the lawyer chasing Arkie was hilarious, she does incredible things to avoid being served with the papers and that part of the story really did keep me giggling.
I also enjoyed the Big Things that Arkie and Haruko went to visit (well mostly Arkie). There weren’t as many as I thought there’d be but it would be difficult to include a lot in a book without the reader probably getting bored of the them. There were quite a few I didn’t know anything about and some it seems are unfortunately not as well maintained as they used to be or have been pulled down completely. I actually didn’t know until the time came to write this review that the Big Bull at Wauchope, which was the closest Big Thing to where I grew up, was pulled down almost eight years ago (you can find a list of all of Australia’s Big Things here). However, I found Haruko’s storyline also a bit far fetched – actually I think I found the entire character of Haruko a bit hard to really identify with. That overly quirky, fashion forward, trend-setting Japanese girl with the slightly broken English didn’t really gel with me. She’s in a foreign country alone and she immediately also starts travelling with Arkie after knowing her about a day. I found both of their behaviour unusual at times. At some stages Haruko seemed way to good to be true and half the book I was expecting her to turn out some sort of figment of Arkie’s imagination or something. In terms of a real flesh and blood character, there wasn’t much to her and I didn’t feel as though the end of the book really gave much depth to her or her story, instead it made me sort of incredulous in a ‘is this really happening’ sort of way.
For me the strength in this story is Arkie and her pilgrimage to the ‘Big Things’. I enjoyed her slow unveiling of the story of how her life had come to be how it was and although I didn’t agree with her actions or feel pity for her because of the consequences, I did admire her blunt honesty and how up front she was about everything. It’s not often you read a book with a protagonist that has made such a colossal mistake as Arkie has. I think I’d have liked a bit more at the end, maybe seen the book go on just a fraction longer but I guess this way the reader gets to make up their mind which direction Arkie’s future goes in.
Book #27 of 2015
Arkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing is book #8 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
This review is part of a blog tour organised by Random House Australia. You can see the full schedule here