If you are Australian and of a certain age, you’ll be battling not to relate in some way to Charles Hall’s impressive first novel, Summer’s Gone (Margaret River Press).
This could be the biography of a generation. It’s a strangely mawkish, yet powerful and immediate tale, with an omnipresent sentimentality lacing the narrative from first page to last.
The story leaps about among the decades from the 1960s to the present and tells of coming of age, familiar places, friends, music, love, sex, war, innocence-lost, betrayal, tragedy, loss, regret and awakening.
Hall’s clear style and short and snappy vernacular set the scene throughout the book.
He particularly nails the persona of Sixties youth, with all it’s bravado and brashness coupled with deep vulnerabilities and callow hopes and dreams. This is a story of life learned the hard way: no matter how carefree it may seem, it’s always fragile and susceptible to fate, or the ‘butterfly’s wing’ theory, as Hall puts it in the novel.
The book’s first line sets the scene with admirable impact.
Helen died on the day Sgt. Pepper’s went on sale …
The story follows protagonist, Nick, a Perth boy who revisits a complicated summer of love years after its tragic end.
It begins when Nick is given a banjo by his uncle in country Victoria, which leads him to form a folk band with his best friend, Mitch, and two attractive sisters from Melbourne, Helen and Alison. They call themselves the Warehouse Four.
The foursome (in more ways than one) encounters the usual personal and societal issues and problems of newly liberated teens and twenty-somethings in the swinging Sixties.
Taboo relationship issues, and fumbling essays at sophisticated intimacy and romance, are particularly well handled by Hall.
Few authors writing about the era have depicted the nuances of awkward lovemaking and fear of the possible consequences with such precision. Yet we discover there’s a method and motive for such descriptive minutiae later in the tome.
The summer of love inevitably starts to unravel, as they do. No slouch, Nick becomes enmeshed in relationships with both sisters, driven on by haphazard sisterly comfort, claret and a fit of abandon. This moment of weakness and dishonorable white-anting upsets the quartetto equilibrium somewhat. The Warehouse Three becomes the working norm.
Mitch bucks the Sixties trend of avoiding all things military and establishment by joining up, and soon Vietnam is but a double-time march away.
Things get even more complex and involved from here on in with the book exploring the realities of coming of age in Australia in the 60s and 70s; the music business, sexual freedom, women’s rights, the tragedy of unwanted pregnancies at the time, communes, the fight against conscription, a yearning for Gough to take the helm and even a stretch in the Freo Big House for our central character – the dark nimbus of the Vietnam War changing everything for the young lions.
Sangropers and Melbournites will enjoy the story as the characters shuttle betwixt Perth and Melbourne several times, hitching lifts across the Nullabor and flying across in the newly arrived Jet Age.
Familiar neigbourhoods like Cottesloe and Claremont, North Melbourne and St Kilda feature heavily and are the backdrop for most of the drama. Country Victoria is also home to Nick’s favourite hermit, Uncle Clem, and this too is skillfully and evocatively described. One gets the strong impression the writer knows Vic backcountry well.
Hall jumps from past to present and back again often during the book, however this is never confusing and the plot remains clear, coherent and strong – which can’t be said for all examples of this story-telling technique.
Summer’s Gone is Charles Hall’s first novel since he began writing fiction in 2001. He was born in Perth and studied at Mount Lawley High in the 1960s, the University of Western Australia (UWA) in the 1980s, and later in Melbourne.
He worked a variety of jobs, hitchhiked across Australia, and played guitar in a band that had a top-5 hit record in Perth in the late 1960s.
He spent the 1990s as guitarist and songwriter for an independent alternative-country band in Melbourne.
He currently lives in Melbourne and rural Victoria with his wife, singer Sue Richmond.
Hence, you can see where he draws much of his inspiration for his story. Writing what you know is always going to work best, and it does in this case.
I enjoyed Summer’s Gone and highly recommend it… and you don’t even have to be a Perth or Melbourne Baby Boomer!
The book will be launched today (Saturday, February 21st, 5:30pm) at the Perth Writers’ Festival at the Tropical Grove in the grounds of UWA. WA State Manager of Musica Viva, Lindsay Lovering, will be there to launch the book.
The original line-up of Charles Hall’s late ’60s band Gemini will perform their hit song ‘Sunshine River’ in a special one-off reunion at the launch.
For more information and orders please email: Caroline Wood at Margaret River Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
Other books from Margaret River Press can be viewed at www.margaretriverpress.com