I suggested this book to my book group for our annual selection and I’m so glad I did. It was the winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award, granting a $60,000 prize which “shall be awarded for the Novel for the year which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases….”
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna is just a delight. Yes, I was completely swayed by the cute doggie on the front cover who looks a lot like my Stella Bella. Yes, I wanted to read about Jimmy, the little boy who could only be handled and understood by his mum – as a single mum, it sometimes feels like there’s no one else who understands (even though I know I have a fabulous village supporting me raise my son).
The Eye of the Sheep is set in the mid-1980s in my home town of Melbourne, Australia. Altona to be precise; the dad in the story works at the refinery you can still see today when you cross the West Gate Bridge. The memories of the 80s and how they were presented definitely showed the Australian way of life.
Jimmy Flick is child on the spectrum (not diagnosed nearly as often back then: kids were just “special” or “a bit of a handful”). The way he connects his world to the real world is wonderful: more precisely, the way the author writes and describes these connections is just breathtaking. His dad’s job at the refinery, describing how it’s his job to clean the rust blocking the pipes (literally) was carried through to his mum’s asthma of dust blocking her pipes (lungs). The way the author describes how Jimmy HAS to run leaves you feeling just as breathless as him.
The story touches on so many topics that faced suburban Australian, then and now: the working class, alcoholism, redundancy, domestic violence, single parenting, family. Every character is flawed, but you love them all anyway.
The language and the way the story is told is amazing. There is light and dark, ups and downs, happy and sad. I thought the tragedy described in the blurb would have happened earlier in the book, and it made the second half seem much shorter than the first, but the writing and character development easily carried this.
This was one of those books that I had six pages to go when I reached my train stop. I was one of ‘those people’ walking down the street with my head in a REAL BOOK because I HAD to finish it. And I would have happily started reading it again straight away, if not for work and the whole needing to earn a living malarky.
Rating: 5 stars (check my book review scale) Book Club book February 2017