And as the boys crowd at the door catching their breath in amazement, Colt sees it all, suddenly, for what it is. His father spends money not merely on making his sons envied, but on making them – and the word seems to tip the floor – enticing.
With Golden Boys, Sonya Hartnett has surely established herself as one of the finest Australian novelists of her generation, nearly twenty years after making her name as one of our most celebrated children’s authors.
It is her skills as a children’s writer that makes her latest novel so penetrating. Her understanding of a child’s psyche, their motivations and how they interact with one another.
Golden Boys is told through several children’s eyes with an adult tongue, a small group of children whose lives are shaken when a wealthy new family moves into their working class suburb. The family’s two young boys, Colt and Bastian, have spent their lives inexplicably moving from place to place, school to school. As Colt grows older, he begins to realise why.
This is an Australia we all know, from the searing asphalt to the prickly nature strips. The only thing more unsettling than the things that lurk behind closed doors are the things that are out in the open we can see, yet choose to do nothing about. Perhaps out of politeness or because we have problems we feel are more pressing, the ramifications of these decisions are often widespread and can be felt for years.
Hartnett explores a central theme that has run throughout children’s literature for centuries – freedom. From Huckleberry Finn to Jasper Jones, a child’s development and growth is usually the result of freedom. But as Hartnett argues, often this freedom is a result of neglect, not savvy parenting. Freedom from neglect has become a prominent phrase in society, but since the publication of Golden Boys, the danger of the freedom of neglect might now become an important topic when tackling problems children are forced to face.
Without a doubt, Golden Boys is one of the finest novels I’ve read in 2014, and perhaps the best Australian novel of the year so far. Don’t be put off by the heavy territory Hartnett explores. This is an Australian classic in the making, full of rich, diverse characters, strong central themes and masterful prose. Get in early before the awards season rolls around and everyone is talking about this extraordinary work.
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat