The Family Men by Catherine Harris

AFL player Harry Furey should be on top of the world – his team has won the premiership and his place in his family’s footballing dynasty looks assured. But Harry is tormented by the sordid events of Sportsman’s Night – an end-of-season celebration involving alcohol, testosterone and an unspeakable act on an underage girl. His memory of the night is hazy, but what he does remember upends his understanding of his club, his sport and his place in football culture.

Wracked with guilt, Harry withdraws into himself, avoiding journalists, his teammates, and the bevy of coaches and managers who speak only in the glib aphorisms expected of sportsmen. All require him to remain loyal to the club and to the narrative they have built for him as the son of an AFL legend whose off-field debauchery tore his family apart and claimed a woman’s life. As the season fades, Harry begins to question who he is after the siren sounds.

Catherine Harris’s novel smoulders rather than explodes – the novel is a little slow going at first, but builds to create a sense of quiet suburban horror as the events of the night are gradually revealed while perceptions of innocence and guilt swing back and forth and blend together. Harry is stubborn, tempestuous and selfish, but a sympathetic and compelling character nonetheless – the narrative shifting between him and the unnamed girl as they are each caught in an inexorable spiral around the fateful moment.

There are obvious comparisons to be drawn with Anna Krien’s Night Games – in many ways, Harris’s fictionalised take on similar themes works as an effective companion piece, exploring sex, masculinity and loyalty on a closer, more intimate level. Regardless of your interest in sport, The Family Men is a starkly brilliant and uniquely Australian novel that stays with you long after reading.

Alan Vaarwerk