2013 – me and rory macbeath ~ richard beasley

I have been writing. I am still writing.

But while I write, I thought I’d post a review I wrote a few months ago for you to read. The jacaranda trees are just starting to burst into bloom here in Sydney and it reminded me of this book. This review was actually intended for something else; I’d nearly forgotten I’d written it. But there it was, sitting in my Documents folder, looking neglected and lonely…

In other words – here’s one I prepared earlier.

Me and Rory Macbeath

Richard Beasley // Published in 2013

rory-coverAs far as twelve-year-old Jake Taylor is concerned, the last thing he needs is a new friend. Especially not a friend as useless as Rory Macbeath.

The year is 1977, and Jake’s suburban Adelaide street, Rose Avenue, is a familiar haven of shiny new cars, backyard pools and jacaranda trees in flower. Until one summer morning, when a new boy turns up in the front yard of the brick house at the end of the street, idly kicking a round ball against a fence.

At first, Jake doesn’t see the point of this new boy, Rory Macbeath. Fresh from chilly Glasgow, Rory knows nothing about cricket or Australian Rules football. He doesn’t even know how to swim. But Jake’s best friend Robbie insists, and Jake begrudgingly agrees to give Rory Macbeath a chance.

Over a long, scorching summer, Jake discovers the point of Rory Macbeath. On a fishing trip with Robbie and his dad, Rory reveals his natural talent. Rory can make a slingshot; he can ride a go-kart down Rose Avenue without fear. And Rory can fight. When Jake gets into an argument at the local pool, Rory rushes to his defence, smashing the nose of a much larger boy with a swift, elegant jab that leaves Jake impressed, though vaguely disturbed.

This moment is echoed moments later in the novel, when Rory and the boys are caught throwing stones onto an elderly neighbour’s roof. Rory’s father, furious and drunk, knocks Rory to the ground with a single, sickening blow:

I had never seen a man hit someone as fast as Mr Macbeath hit Rory. And I had never seen a man hit a boy like that before. He slapped him on the side of the head so hard he knocked him to the ground. Then he picked him up by the hair and he did it again, the sound of his hand on Rory’s head so loud it winded me.

One hot night, sneaking around Rose Avenue when they’re meant to be camping in Robbie’s front yard, Jake and Robbie peek through the Macbeaths’ kitchen window. What the two boys witness that night leaves them stunned – and sets into action a sequence of events that will leave the residents of Rose Avenue reeling.

Richard Beasley’s third novel, Me and Rory Macbeath opens as a delightful, often laugh-out-loud funny paean to the last summer of childhood; to ice-cream for dessert, tales told by torchlight and bare feet on hot concrete. But behind the nostalgia, there’s something sinister lurking, and it’s not long before the novel’s darker themes come rolling in like a summer storm.

Told from Jake’s perspective, Me and Rory Macbeath is infused with the wonder and confusion of being twelve. Particularly confusing for Jake is his mother, Harry. A single mother and successful barrister, Harry specialises in defending the shady insurance claims of local business owners. Jake often sits in on his mother’s cases during the school holidays, but doesn’t quite understand what Harry means when she winks at him and assures him that all her clients are all “very, very innocent”.

With a pack of cigarettes and a glass of red wine always within reach, Harry isn’t the most conventional mum. But while she mightn’t always remember to do the grocery shopping, Jake knows he can turn to Harry whenever he needs help. And he’s not alone. Often, Jake wakes in the night to the sound of familiar voices in the lounge room, like Mrs. Williams from down the road, who takes refuge on Harry’s couch for the night every few weeks. Eventually, Rory’s mother comes over for Harry’s advice, too. Jake doesn’t know what Harry means when she says Rory’s mum ‘walked into a door’, but he’s beginning to realise that something isn’t quite right about Rose Avenue.

Beasley is at his most entertaining when he’s writing about Harry; in particular, when we see her in action in the courtroom. Beasley, himself an accomplished barrister, writes about the legal process with an eagerness that shines through the spaces between his words.

Me and Rory Macbeath is written in clear, precise language that doesn’t draw attention to itself. For the most part, Beasley is true to the voice of his young narrator, as well as the era in which his novel is set.

However, while Beasley’s prose is straightforward and uncomplicated, the issues he deals with are anything but simple. Right at its solemn, melancholy heart, Me and Rory Macbeath is a novel preoccupied with justice; not only in the courtroom, but in the playground and behind the closed doors of Rose Avenue.

For Jake as well as Harry, the burden of taking a stand for what’s right isn’t always as straightforward as it would seem.

Author: Michelle

Reader, writer, wannabe. Literary critic (with training wheels on). Blogging my way through the 20th century's classic novels in chronological order.

4 thoughts on “2013 – me and rory macbeath ~ richard beasley”

    1. I read this right in the middle of winter, and, though I’ve never been to (r)Adelaide and I wasn’t born until a few years after this novel is set, I could definitely smell the chlorine of the local pool, and taste the salt and vinegar chips and chocolate milk from the canteen.

      Let me know when you pick this up – I’d be interested to hear what you think of it!

  1. I went to school with Richard and can vouch for his novel’s authenticity.I even recognise the character sketches of Jake’s teachers. While I suspect Rose Avenue may be an amalgam of his childhood locales, there is a location in the real Rose Park of which I was immediately reminded. The courtroom drama’s echoes of Harper Lee’s classic novel are a little distracting, but I found all of his characters utterly convincing. According to my wife, Harry’s boss Tom is based on a legend of the Adelaide legal fraternity too.

    1. Thanks DT – I hadn’t really considered how much of the setting and characters Beasley might have borrowed from reality! Sometimes when authors borrow from their lives, they make it really obvious – Beasley, however, does it really well. Thanks for saying hi!

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