House of Sticks by Peggy Frew
Back when the Punters Club still existed on Brunswick Street, the Melbourne band Art of Fighting were one of my favourite local bands. Their shows were intimate and measured, but the music could move in an instant from quiet and melodious to heavily layered and intense. Peggy Frew was the bass player and although the band hasn’t released an album since 2007, she has been busy raising children and writing House of Sticks which won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.
It is a cliché that first novels are autobiographical and the main character Bonnie has put her music career on hold to raise three children. Because of this I must admit that I started reading House of Sticks with some trepidation. But by the end of page one, all anxiety was gone and I was completely absorbed. The writing flows effortlessly and the dialogue is so genuine that I felt I was eavesdropping on Bonnie and her family in their home. The story loosely revolves around an old friend of her partner who shows up on their doorstep causing Bonnie to question her commitment to her new life as a stay-at-home mother. There are eruptions of such emotional intensity in this novel followed by expertly illustrated and quieter domestic moments that the pace of this novel invites comparison to the complexity of Art of Fighting’s music.
The honest and delicate portrayal of domestic life in Melbourne brought to mind Helen Garner and as soon as I finished the last sentence of House of Sticks I went straight to my bookshelf and found The Children’s Bach and began to reread what is one of my favourite Australian novels. Frew’s book reminded me of how fantastic it is to read great local literature and that good novels like this don’t come along very often.
Kara Nicholson is from Readings Carlton