Golden Boys

Sonya Hartnett

Golden Boys
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Golden Boys

Sonya Hartnett

Shortlisted for the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Golden Boys is an unflinching and utterly compelling novel for adults by Sonya Hartnett, one Australia’s finest writers.

With their father, there’s always a catch…

Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian have moved to a new, working-class suburb. The Jensons are different. Their father, Rex, showers them with gifts - toys, bikes, all that glitters most - and makes them the envy of the neighbourhood.

To Freya Kiley and the other local kids, the Jensons are a family from a magazine, and Rex a hero - successful, attentive, attractive, always there to lend a hand. But to Colt he’s an impossible figure in a different way: unbearable, suffocating. Has Colt got Rex wrong, or has he seen something in his father that will destroy their fragile new lives?

Sonya Hartnett’s third novel for adults is utterly compelling, an unflinching and disquieting work from one of Australia’s finest writers.

‘Golden Boys has a line-by-line brilliance that is startling …Hartnett  is one of Australia’s most penetrating analysts of the travail and turmoil of families, especially as witnessed and suffered by the young.’ Weekend Australian

Review

Reading Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys is unnerving, an experience akin to treading deep water. Everything above the surface appears calm, but there’s the lingering sensation that anything could be lurking below. And as I made my way through this novel, my heart was in my throat, the tension palpable.

Reminiscent of Butterfly, her brilliant 2009 novel, Golden Boys is an emotionally charged and subtly crafted work about the particular angst of childhood and adolescence. When the Jensons move into a working-class neighbourhood, the other families are entranced by their charm and wealth. Yet, from the opening scene, it’s clear that the father’s fascinating veneer is not all it appears. Throughout the novel, Rex’s real form is just beyond our gaze, and much like something slippery in the water might brush against your foot, this form emerges fleetingly – as accusation but never fact. The truth remains ambiguous and it’s precisely this unknown that makes reading Golden Boys so tense and frightening. Hartnett’s villains are not cartoonish; rather, they are shapeshifters from fairytales. Is Rex monstrous, or misunderstood? Did your foot touch a piece of ocean debris or something far more sinister?

In the midst of this uncertainty, the children in the community of Golden Boys devise their own rules – rules constructed from a naive logic and a warped sense of fairness that insists if something bad happens then somebody must be punished. When one character learns her parents likely married because her mother fell pregnant with her, she readily accepts responsibility for their unhappy lives now. As with her previous works, it’s Hartnett’s clear-eyed depiction of this simultaneous brutality and sensitivity of children that I found most gripping. The intimate yearnings and injustices these children feel so keenly are cleverly located within larger issues of class, religion and family. Golden Boys is a powerful novel.


Bronte Coates is the Digital Content Coordinator and Editorial Assistant for Readings Monthly. She is a co-founder of literary project, Stilts.

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