The Returns

Philip Salom

The Returns
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The Returns

Philip Salom

Elizabeth posts a ‘room for rent’ notice in Trevor’s bookshop and is caught off-guard when Trevor answers the ad himself. She expected a young student not a middle-aged bookseller whose marriage has fallen apart. But Trevor is attracted to Elizabeth’s house because of the empty shed in her backyard, the perfect space for him to revive the artistic career he abandoned years earlier. The face-blind, EH Holden-driving Elizabeth is a solitary and feisty book editor, and she accepts him, on probation…

Miles Franklin finalist Philip Salom has a gift for depicting the inner states of his characters with empathy and insight. In this poignant yet upbeat novel the past keeps returning in the most unexpected ways. Elizabeth is at the beck and call of her ageing mother, and the associated memories of her childhood in a Rajneesh community. Trevor’s Polish father disappeared when Trevor was fifteen, and his mother died not knowing whether he was dead or alive. The authorities have declared him dead, but is he?

The Returns
is a story about the eccentricities, failings and small triumphs that humans are capable of, a novel that pokes fun at literary and artistic pretensions, while celebrating the expansiveness of art, kindness and friendship.

Review

Bookselling day in and day out is not what he expected. It is more like dreaming of love and waking on the wrong side of the road.

The Returns centres on Trevor, a quiet, elderly bookseller with a failed marriage, and Elizabeth, an editor working on a novel about two characters who are pleasantly reminiscent of Big and Little from Salom’s previous novel, Waiting.

In some ways, The Returns and Waiting are very similar, as both bring to life such a vivid depiction of Melbourne that I found myself wondering which streets Salom was thinking of when he wrote each scene, and whether I’d seen his characters and not even realised it. In fact, with the plot kicking off after an ad for a room is posted in a bookshop window, I couldn’t help but think that this was perhaps a fantasy version of Readings Carlton, before the renovations. Though the more I read about this fantasy shop, the more obvious it became that it wasn’t Readings Carlton. For one thing, it was small and quiet.

In other ways, however, Salom has once again taken this new novel as a chance to reinvent himself. Without Big and Little’s allegorical innocence leading the way, the reins are instead taken up by two protagonists whose maturity lends a more sombre tone. The language is graphic and evocative, jumping from thought to thought in a way that encapsulates the wandering, erratic minds of his characters. It can sometimes require a bit of patience from the reader, but with Salom’s charming way of capturing the romance and the nuance in the stories that are happening all around us in real life, this patience more than pays off.


Tom Davies works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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