Alex Miller is one of Australia’s best known authors, not quite as well known as Tim Winton but he is certainly up there. He has had huge critical success with two Miles Franklin awards and many others under his belt. This year he has already won the Victorian’s Premier’s literary award for fiction for Coal Creek, and is also shortlisted for the Indie Award in the Fiction category. I don’t always love his books, so I hadn’t picked this up when it first came out, but having recently finished it, I now see that was foolish, because it is very good. It is about a young man, Bobby Blue who has grown up in country Queensland and is frequently mustering out in the bush with his dad. But these days are coming to a close and when his mother dies, and then his father some years later, Bobby takes a job as a policeman at Mount Hay. The new constable, Daniel Collins is from the coast and not used to the ways of the inland, and he has a wife who has firm views on all things. Instead of letting Constable Collins do things his way, his wife has too much to say, even though they are both, inevitably going to get it wrong.
Bobby lives on their property, though not in their house, and being illiterate develops a friendship with the Collins’ daughter Irie, who starts to teach him to read. The friendship grows and Bobby knows she is way too young for him, but is hoping for a long term future with her. Meanwhile, Bobby’s lifelong Ben, who has always done his things his own way, and brushed up against the edges of the law is going to cause problems for Bobby, in terms of where his loyalty will lie. Told from Bobby’s point of view and in Bobby’s simple language, the books builds a picture of a life most of us city slickers have no clue about. But love, loyalty and tragedy are common to all walks of life, and Alex Miller is a master at telling an emotional story without a hint of sentimentality. It is very good. Paperback $30
And PS: Coal Creek has been nominated for the Fiction Shortlist in the Indie Awards 2014. Check out the other nominees, too!