All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Place On Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

The Place On Dalhousie
Melina Marchetta
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 288p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging, from one of our most acclaimed writers.

I feel like I have been waiting for this book my whole life.

That is of course, not true. I never read Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son until 2011 or 2012. But I feel like ever since I read both of those I’ve wanted Jimmy Hailler to have his own book. And obviously I’ve not been alone in that. I feel like I’ve been around for this core group of friends for so long, I’ve watched them go from a bunch of thrown together high school students to young adults negotiating that life post-high school and now getting to the stage where it’s setting up life forever.

I’ve seen it said that this can be read stand alone and look, it probably can. I know people who have done it. But I’m going to go out there and say I don’t recommend it. Because this is like a three part journey and you get to know everyone so well in Saving Francesca. They are this group of people that became friends because of proximity and circumstance but they made it a choice to keep coming back together, to keep choosing each other. When you step into this book, you know who each and everyone of them is and how they got there.

Except Rosie. Rosie is new. Rosie is in QLD, having fled the family home that her father built so painstakingly for their family. Rosie’s mother died before it was finished and then not even a year later, her father remarried. Now her father is dead too and it’s Rosie’s stepmother Martha that lives alone in the house that Seb built. Rosie is running and Jimmy is searching when they meet during a flood and it’s something temporary even though Jimmy gives Rosie his number. When Rosie has need to use it, it’s still some time before Jimmy gets the message and then he finds his life irreversibly changed.

I’ve said this before, probably said it so many times but I’m not sure there’s an author out there that writes characters in pain better than Melina Marchetta. She manages to convey that pain and anguish in such beautiful ways so that it becomes like your own. You live and breathe her characters and it’s like that in every book. And I think it’s a difficult thing to do because it can so easily stray into overdramatic territory, or ring a bit false. But I’m never more invested than I am in a Marchetta book and it’s even more so when there are characters that I feel I know so well. Frankie, Will, Tom, Tara, Justine, Siobhan and Jimmy have this connection and even though they may come and go as life dictates, they are the closest of friends without making a big deal about it. There are private jokes ahoy (it’s not fucking Melbourne) but what they do is show up. And Jimmy, who has searched for a family, you have one mate. You’ve created one with Rosie and you’ve created one with your friends. It may not be the same……but it’s there and it’s real.

It’s tough being a stepmother (and I should know). It’s probably equally tough being a stepdaughter. And it’s even harder when the thing that tied you to each other is no longer around. Both Rosie and Martha lay claim to the house and when Rosie finally returns home, neither will move out and relinquish their claim on it. They exist separately to each other, one upstairs and one downstairs, barely interacting and when they do it’s fraught with tension. Martha has been through some things too – she’s been grieving but now her life seems like there are possibilities for the future, but she has to make some tough decisions, ones that won’t make things with Rosie any easier. Jimmy becomes the person in the middle that starts to bind them together, to break down the tensions, sort of the same way he did with Frankie’s mother in Saving Francesca. Jimmy has never been afraid to jump in there – he was that irrepressible kid in high school that kind of just attached himself to Frankie and followed her home one day and became part of her life. He has fears in this novel, deep fears of his own ability and adequacy to do this when he’s had so little in the way of role models to show him the way. But Jimmy is more than just the sum of his biological parts and he’s had plenty of influence from other people he’s not related to and these days, plenty of support. Him and Rosie both have realisations to make about their village and who populates it.

I read this on a plane and unfortunately I had to leave it behind at my parents’ place when I flew back because my carry on luggage was overweight and they slugged me 60 bucks on the flight up. I didn’t want to pay that on the way back as well so I left behind everything I felt I wouldn’t need or that would weigh it down, until I see my parents again. I’m already regretting leaving this. Because I want to read it again. I devoured it kind of greedily on the plane, because I’d been wanting a book about Jimmy for so long and I wanted to see (needed to know) how things were going to turn out for him. I wish I had it again to read it slower, second time around. To really absorb everything and just take in the little details and moments. I will get the chance to read it again and I’m telling myself that the wait will make it all the more worth it. I re-read Saving Francesca in preparation for this but I didn’t get to The Piper’s Son. I think I’d like to read all 3 one after the other, just to relive the journey in full.

I am a broken record when it comes to Melina Marchetta but she can do no wrong when it comes to books that hit me right in the heart.


Book #55 of 2019

The House On Dalhousie is the 27th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019