You’ll always find plenty of people to complain about how Americanised Australian society is coming. We know American slang better than our own, we dial 911 in an emergency instead of 000 and there was a period when, every time we heard an Australian accent on TV (apart from the news) we got a perceptible shock. It’s a similar feeling to the shock of recognition I got on reading P.A. O’Reilly’s The Fine Colour of Rust. The residents of the fictional outback town of Gunapan aren’t just recognisable archetypes, you know these people – one of them probably lives down the road, another owns the local shop, you probably have one or more in your family. O’Reilly brings them all to life with a wry humour and a rare sympathy. If this book doesn’t make you laugh out loud, it might well make you shed a quiet tear, although in the best Australian tradition it makes little and light of its occasional sentimentality.
The contrast struck me immediately with Southern Fried, the book I read immediately after. The defining characteristic of the book is its location deep in South Carolina, which is vividly portrayed when Avery Andrews returns home after losing her job as a big-city attorney. There’s a touch of the clichéd big city-versus-small town but it’s still interesting and there’s a reasonable mystery to anchor the whole thing down. However, the thing that really provokes my curiosity is whether I really “got it” – whether, in fact, it’s possible to “get it” from as far away place as Australia. Would Southern readers feel the same instinctive understanding of Avery as I felt about Loretta Boskovic? Was it really a true portrayal, or did it veer towards cliché? I can’t answer.
To Australian readers, I highly recommend The Fine Colour of Rust – it’s as easy to read as the usual chick-lit, but with far more intelligence. P.A O’Reilly has really done a wonderful job in writing a truly original book. I can’t compare it with anything else out there at the moment, so you’ll have to read it by yourself and find out – trust me, you won’t regret it.
I can’t unhesitatingly recommend Southern Fried because my overwhelming feeling is that I’m somehow not qualified to judge. But if you have an interest in the area, or are looking for a decent, readable mystery that’s not too taxing, you should give it a go. And if there is anyone who comes from South Carolina who wants to give me their view on its accuracy or otherwise, feel free to post it in the comments!