A Long Way From Home is a novel that takes the reader a long way from any comfort zone. It is challenging in many ways and perhaps it is only a determined reader armed with perseverance who will unearth its depths of experience.
The basics are easy. We are in Australia in the 1950s, specifically in Bacchus March, a small town in Victoria, which is specifically and perhaps crucially not an urban environment. We meet Mrs Irene Bobs, married to Titch, and we encounter a range of the foibles that afflict families for good or ill wherever families might be. We also meet the unlikely character of Bachhuber, with professed German ancestry. He comes with an extra special mix of family foibles.
The early part of the book can be opaque. Switching between different points of view, but without major stylistic clues, the lives of people in Bacchus March and those of their parents and ancestors elsewhere emerge out of the mists of gossip, history and half-truth. There is a strong sense of competition, of doing business, of eking every morsel of value out of everything that might be tradable. There is discussion about how to establish a dealership for the cars that are becoming a way of life for expel who previously might not have considered owning one. There is certainly money to be made, but how?
Somehow a plan emerges that entails participation in the Redex Trial, a round Australia trip that will be covered by press and watched my eager spectators along the route. It’s a route, however, that passes through many underpopulated areas, the crossing of which present challenges to the participants. We follow the Bobs and Mr Bachhuber in their progress through the rally and, it might be said, the book only really takes off once the race – sorry, it’s not a race – starts.
Eventually, we see the aftermath of a successful campaign as the rally car and its occupants complete a continental circle down the west coast and back to Victoria. Along the way, we encounter past and present of the characters’ and the nation’s identity.
Central to this novel is an interplay between identity and power. A prime theme is the reality of life as experienced by Australia’s indigenous people and the origins of that reality in the colonial past. This history has engendered learned behaviour 88카 as well as legal and cultural practices that seem to offer a self-justifying order to life. Things are that way because things are that way. Don’t argue. But what happens when someone does argue, or does break a mould?
Bachhuber goes along for the ride with the Bobs, initially as navigator. But it is not long before we learn that his ability to get them to a place does not imply that he might be accepted when he arrives there. Despite his professed German heritage, he turns out to be black, or half black, or half white, or whatever fraction a prejudiced observer might want to ascribe. It means he can’t buy a beer in bar and can’t mix with those he encounters. Along the route, Bachhuber finds the reality of his parentage and leans that the German roots go only as deep as his father might have planted them.
But amidst this search through a nation’s past, there are other relationships of exploitation and power, not least those between the sexes. Titch Bobs does not survive the exigencies of the rally for too long and Irene takes over the driving. She wears overalls, dresses like a man, and receives comments and treatment that identify the reduced status of her sex.
But she is a very good driver and does well in the race that is not a race. She does well in meeting all challenges, mechanical, psychological and personal that the race presents. Her relation with Bachhuber, who continues along the road with her after Titch temporarily disappears from the scene, develops, but it’s greatest product seems to be the rising jealousy of her husband, whose ownership seems to be in question.
Thus, we have multi-layered aspects of exploitation based on race, sex and not least generation. None of these is resolvable, of course, but it is the relation between Australia’s present and past that appears to be the one that can be changed. The experience, however, in A Long Way From Home remains somewhat opaque. Nothing is ever clear because everything is filtered through the confusion of each character’s point of view, and this is always changing, perhaps even negotiable. The result is thoroughly moving, but the circular trip is less than continental and the journey is less than life-changing.