A welcome return to form from Melina Marchetta who captured the hearts and minds of young adults (and their mums) with Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca. Marchetta did garner new fans with Finnikin of the Rock and On the Jellicoe Road, but she is at her best in the inner city and it is here that she has returned with The Piper’s Son. I have long been a big fan, but I am leaving the running here to Shoshana Booth, who is bang smack in her target market, and who is much more eloquent than I on the subject of the very talented Ms Marchetta.
I don’t think any Australian girl twenty years or under should miss the phenomenon that was Looking for Alibrandi, Marchetta’s debut novel set in Leichardt, Sydney. Written from a sixteen-year old Italian-Australian’s point of view, Marchetta explored race, cultural identity, exams, boys, and growing up. In her second novel, Saving Francesca, the main character a teenager with a similar background, but this time dealing with depression, family obligation, and (of course) growing up. Personally, I preferred Saving Francesca – I found it funny, insightful and so honest I cried (several times). I have just re-read Saving Francesca in anticipation of her third novel, The Piper’s Son.
The Piper’s Son is Marchetta’s first novel written from a boy’s point of view. Thomas Mackee is twenty-two, and has been desperately in love with Tara Finke since he was sixteen. Two years ago, his life was perfect; he had succeeded in wooing her, his band was kicking off, and his favourite uncle was coming over from England. Fast forward to two years later, and Thomas’ life is a complete wreck. His uncle’s shock death blew his family apart; his father is an alcoholic and living alone, his mother and sister have fled to Brisbane, and Thomas is passing his haze in a foggy, drug-induced haze. Thomas has spent the last two years trying to blur out his past, but then he has a nasty accident. The voices of his parents, sister, aunt, and Tara rush back, reminding him what he has been trying for the last two years to forget. Thrown out of his share house, Thomas realises it’s finally time put his life back together, and moves back in with his aunt.
Don’t expect Thomas’ journey to be easy: his friends and family are willing to forgive him, but it’s Thomas’ determination not to forgive himself that makes it painful reading. I loved, loved, loved this book, and thought it was an absolutely worthy successor of her past two novels. Reappearances from characters in Saving Francesca (both Thomas and Tara are minor characters in that novel) make it even more special, and through Marchetta’s intuitive, deft voice we are taken through Thomas’ journey, until our happiness is inextricably linked to his. Marchetta’s fascinating insight and unflinching honesty makes this book an incredible read, guaranteed to result in heartbreak, tears, and perhaps a little happiness as well.