Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Starlings by Vivienne Kelly

It takes quite a talent to sustain humour throughout what is in fact a sad story. In Vivienne Kelly’s novel The Starlings it is the amusing moments that make the pages fly but it is the unfolding narrative of a family coming apart that keeps you riveted to the end.

The story is told in retrospect by successful playwright, Nicholas Starling, recalling what happened to his family when he was eight years old. Nicky is a sensitive boy, who pours his imagination into creating small dramas around his action figures, the hero Zarlok and the evil looking Fleshbane. His mother has read him the stories of Shakespeare and King Arthur and these feed into his plays with humorous effect.

Meanwhile Nicky’s teenage sister is pining for a boy at school and rolling her eyes at every utterance made by their dad. And why wouldn’t she? All he ever talks about is the footy. Nicky does his best not to be a wimp and to feign interest in the high drama of the footy field so as not to annoy his father. Mum sympathises with her son and looks increasingly pained and frustrated.

On the day of Nicky’s birthday comes the news that his grandmother, Didie, has died of the cancer that has kept her bedridden and cared for by the lovely Rose. Nicky adores Rose and worries that she will not be around anymore when he visits his grandfather’s house. Only she is. Rose’s attachment to Nicky’s Grandpa adds more friction, and Nicky finds himself an unsuspecting spy when he visits, pumped for information on his return home.

The story hums along towards a crisis in his parents’ marriage, interspersed with Nicky’s reinterpretations of Shakespearean tragedy and Arthurian legend. Somehow the stories of Hamlet, Macbeth and the love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere help Nicky to make sense of what’s going on around him.

Kelly cleverly writes Nicky as a forty-year-old looking back, so the prose is fairly sophisticated, and yet we are still in the head of a child. I loved this novel. It is as witty and fresh as it is insightful and poignant and eight-year-old Nicky is wonderful company.

Reviewed by JAM 

Catalogue link:  The Starlings

No comments:

Post a Comment