Sweet Old World

Deborah Robertson

Sweet Old World
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Sweet Old World

Deborah Robertson

The highly anticipated second novel from the bestselling author of Careless. David Quinn’s dream of family has for years eluded him. Surely what he wants is simple? It’s only what other men have, but there’s no woman in his life, and now that he’s living on a remote island in the Atlantic, do his hopes still stand a chance? It’s summer on the Irish island of Inishmore, and the tourists are arriving. They’re coming for the wild beauty and the five thousand years of history, the Celtic legends and the burial sites of saints. They’re coming for the drink and the sex and the craic. Seventeen-year-old Esther Bradley has come from Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia. On harsh Inishmore, where people have always struggled to survive, she is battling the landscape of her own mind. David Quinn is reluctant to catch Esther when she tumbles dangerously into his life, but happiness is about to burst upon him, and every simple thing he’s wanted will soon be close enough to touch. But is anything ever really simple any more? Set among the ancient stories of the haunting Aran Islands, reaching to London in the 1980s and contemporary Australia, this is an unforgettable lo

Review

There are novels that win you over in an instant and novels that creep up on you. Surely and insistently, Deborah Robertson’s Sweet Old World is the latter.

Writer and expat David Quinn has come to live near his sister and her children on the remote island of Inishmore, Ireland. A bachelor who is beginning to feel the onset of age, he longs deeply for a child of his own, yet fears that this opportunity may have passed him by. Enter Ettie – a young tourist from Perth – who may be the one to give him that chance, though not without complications. There is more to it than that of course, much more, but to say it here would be to ruin a brilliantly crafted narrative.

Robertson is brave enough not to rely on gendered clichés in her exploration of parenthood and family and the book is stronger for it. David’s need is both visceral and moving: ‘he wonders who is making love, who is soothing a restless child. He hasn’t done enough of either in his life, and tonight he feels like the lack could kill him … It is the greatest of all its inequalities, the world’s distribution of love.’ Yet David not a wholly likeable character either. Internally at least, he pursues his compulsion towards fatherhood like a kind of lust, a desire that adds a desperate volume to sex, and to the new relationships he encounters.

Through this, we are made painfully aware of the hopes and perils of striving for the life you want – of what can drive two people together and the turn of screw; the smallest moments that can break a relationship apart. The prose is lean and muscled and the ending near-perfect in its restraint. Written with equal measures of grace and regret, Sweet Old World is a novel that is both knowing and true.

Jess_Au Jessica Au is from Readings St Kilda and is the author of Cargo.

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