All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Taking Tom Murray Home by Tim Slee

on August 27, 2019

Taking Tom Murray Home
Tim Slee
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Bankrupt dairy farmer Tom Murray decides he’d rather sell off his herd and burn down his own house than hand them over to the bank. But something goes tragically wrong, and Tom dies in the blaze. His wife, Dawn, doesn’t want him to have died for nothing and decides to hold a funeral procession for Tom as a protest, driving 350km from Yardley in country Victoria to bury him in Melbourne where he was born. To make a bigger impact she agrees with some neighbours to put his coffin on a horse and cart and take it slow – real slow.

But on the night of their departure, someone burns down the local bank. And as the motley funeral procession passes through Victoria, there are more mysterious arson attacks. Dawn has five days to get to Melbourne. Five days, five more towns, and a state ready to explode in flames…

Told with a laconic, deadpan wit, Taking Tom Murray Home is a timely, thought-provoking, heart-warming, quintessentially Australian story like no other. It’s a novel about grief, pain, anger and loss, yes, but it’s also about hope – and how community, friends and love trump pain and anger, every time.

This book is the winner of the Harper Collins Australia Banjo Prize, an award for an unpublished manuscript. It was the inaugural winner, picked from an entry pool of about 320 manuscripts. Even though it’s in its early days, it looks well on the way to being a showcase for the sort of writing that is out there, just waiting for a break.

Taking Tom Murray Home deals with dairy farmer Tom Murray who has finally lost his dairy farm to the bank. Instead of giving them a fully functioning working farm, he decides to burn it down – after all, there’s no law against burning down your own property. And before he hands it over, it’s his one last act of defiance. If the bank want to take it, they’ll have to either rebuild it or take a loss on what it’s worth when they sell it. But something goes wrong and Tom Murray dies in the house fire leaving a widow and two kids behind. His widow Dawn decides that as a protest, she will take Tom’s body on a horse and cart from down in country Victoria all the way to Carlton in Melbourne for his funeral so that the people of Victoria can see just how dire the position of the farmer.

This is really interesting and it’s actually tackling something I talked about on this blog just the other week, the difficulty of farmers and in particular, what had been happening in the dairy industry here in Australia. Supermarkets began offering $1 a litre milk to get people through the door. The companies that bought the milk from farmers slashed the prices they were offering per litre, sometimes down to as low as 35c a litre, which is actually less than the cost of producing it. It also led people to believe that because milk was so cheap in the supermarkets, it was cheap to produce and the real value of it began to get lost. I don’t buy cheap milk (I won’t say I never have, because sometimes there’s endless rows of supermarket milk and nothing else, but generally there are small sections of independent farmers and co-ops types of milk and I buy those whenever I can). I’ve read stories about farmers who walked away from their livelihoods, just upped sticks and left. Farmers who had millions of dollars worth of milking equipment sitting idle because either drought meant that they’d had to sell their stock or the price they were being given for their milk didn’t actually cover their costs in making it. Some farmers were dumping huge portions of milk for the same reason.

Taking Tom Murray Home is narrated by Tom’s young son Jack. We see the fire and discovery through his eyes, as well as his mother’s decision for the funeral procession as well as the actual procession itself. It begins down past Warrnambool in country Victoria, along the Great Ocean Road, detouring through Colac and then up to Geelong. Jack and his twin sister Jenny both suffer from something called Dorotea’s analgesia (which is a fictional condition based on a real life one) which means they do not experience pain. This also means that they process emotional things differently and don’t cry. It really affects how they feel about their father’s death, their disconnection from the reality of it. I found the condition really interesting, both the physical and mental component. Because they do not feel if they have injured themselves they basically have to conduct nightly checks to make sure they haven’t done themselves any damage during the day, which as children growing up on a farm, would be entirely possible. That was a weird thing to try and imagine, not feeling even a broken bone or a cut that would need stitches.

As they make their way to Melbourne, their cause is taken up by media and spreads but someone is also taking Tom Murray’s idea of burning his farm down and applying it elsewhere – banks and supermarkets, which means that the overall message sometimes gets lost in the arson, which is also picked up and replicated around the country. Which can be an unfortunate consequence of staging a peaceful protest.

I enjoyed the journey – the funeral procession travels by horse and cart to circumvent traffic laws and it’s all in areas I’m really familiar with and roads I have travelled numerous times. I enjoyed the message too but although Jack was interesting, I think I’d have preferred to read more from his mother’s perspective. I did understand his reluctance to believe that his father’s death was real and I could sympathise with his determination to find a reason, a culprit. Someone to blame. But I wanted to read more about Dawn. This is the sort of book I can see myself passing onto my son in a couple of years because I think he will identify more with its narration more than I did.


Book #128 of 2019

One response to “Review: Taking Tom Murray Home by Tim Slee

  1. I have this on my work desk as it came into the school library and I’ve held onto it before the librarian could shelve it.

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