Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
Razorhurst is set in a place and time that may be unfamiliar to readers when they begin – Surry Hills, Sydney, in the 1930s – but a strong opening chapter places our feet firmly in the grotty backstreets. From here we follow the dual narratives of Kelpie, a gutsy, grungy street girl, and Dymphna, a beautiful, whip-smart and ambitious prostitute, thrown together and running for their lives after discovering the dead body of Dymphna’s latest boyfriend. Extracts mingled in between the main action provide fascinating asides: in these we learn why razors became the weapon of choice, which events preceded Kelpie’s life on the streets and Dymphna’s as ‘best girl’ in a brothel and, briefly, the politics of the day.
Justine Larbalestier’s lightness of touch, compassion for her two main characters and balance of story and history meant that by the end I wasn’t ready to leave. Fortunately the author is generous in revealing her inspirations, and there is a reading trail to be followed, starting with Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South. What Razorhurst adds to these great novels that came before it is both fitting and well-handled: ghosts. While some of Larbalestier’s characters can see and hear ghosts, most cannot, but they are everywhere, which makes for some really clever, entertaining scenes. Highly recommended.
Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time.