The Restorer

Michael Sala

The Restorer
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The Restorer

Michael Sala

After a year apart, Maryanne returns to her husband, Roy, bringing their eight-year-old son Daniel and his teenage sister Freya with her. The family move from Sydney to Newcastle, where Roy has bought a derelict house on the coast. As Roy painstakingly patches the holes in the floorboards and plasters over cracks in the walls, Maryanne believes, for a while, that they can rebuild a life together.


But Freya doesn’t want a fresh start - she just wants out - and Daniel drifts around the sprawling, run-down house in a dream, infuriating his father, who soon forgets the promises he has made.

Some cracks can never be smoothed over, and tension grows between Roy and Maryanne until their uneasy peace is ruptured - with devastating consequences.

Review

The Restorer is often surprisingly beautiful, at times lulling us into quiet coastal domesticity or the coming-of-age story of Freya, the daughter of the family the novel is centred around. With exhaustion, pugnaciousness, slipperiness, and intelligence Freya swings between finding and losing herself. She meets a gentle boy who introduces her, both literally and not, to The Dark Side of the Moon and in particular the track ‘Comfortably Numb’. Then there’s an older boy who, like her father, Roy, and perhaps her grandfather, uses violence to transmute want into possession.

This is Michael Sala’s second novel. His semi-autobiographical debut, The Last Thread, won the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Pacific Region.

I say ‘surprisingly beautiful’ because here women over three generations ‘cope with’ or struggle against charming but explosively angry men with a hardened-jaw terror of their own intellectual and emotional inferiority. Freya’s mother, Maryanne, a nurse, has recently returned to Roy, in part because she can’t stand living with and being helped by her own mother, Alice, and in part because they met when she was so young, and it just seemed to happen again. Besides, Roy has bought a house in Newcastle and seems aware that the wrongdoing has been his alone. (His responsibility will be repeatedly adjusted.)

What Maryanne and her two children, Freya and eight-year-old Daniel, don’t realise is that Roy has taken them out of Sydney to isolate them, particularly from Alice, who Roy refers to as a meddler he’d like to punch. Sala plays on stereotypes of mother–daughter relationships, questioning what divides and unites them.

I’ll avoid spoilers, but there’s much more to this book than domestic violence – at times too much. But Sala creates complex parallels between the elements, while sounding them against the Tiananmen Square protests and the fall of the Berlin Wall (it’s the late 80s, early 90s). Beguiled by her own tolerance of Roy, Maryanne questions the recklessness of the Tank Man’s defiance, and the tragedy of those killed crossing a wall that would soon be politically erased. Here, things are almost never easily good, but are often nakedly awful.


Oliver Driscoll works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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