15 April 2009


by Gary Bryson

Allen & Unwin. Adult Other, Australian. Paperback rrp $27.95

Reviewed By Anastasia Gonis

Donald Pinelli has been told by his unstable and manic mother Trixie that he is cursed and will die by drowning on his eighteenth birthday. Trixie has a valid reason for believing this, regardless of her existence in a delusional, withdrawn state which alternates with periods of coherence and constructive activity. His brother, whom Donald calls Mr Disco because of his personality and interests, hates him, as does his younger sister, Luce. This is not merely a hatred that stems from sibling rivalry, but a tangible, pulsing hatred that robs Donald of any form of family life. Then there is his gangster father, Carlos, whose total disregard of family life, adds to the congested hopelessness in Donald’s mind.

It is not until Donald encounters a neglected turtle at an equally neglected zoo, that his life changes and hope is born inside him for the first time. The two bond immediately. The turtle-shaped birthmark on Donald’s neck reveals its significance. A communication begins between the two as the turtle teaches the boy how to start living, instead of waiting to die. The boy finally finds the strength to escape from his prison.

After a thirty-two year absence, Donald returns to Glasgow to attend Trixie’s funeral. His life is in tatters, but his return brings change to situations that till then had been cast in stone.

This is a beautifully written and deeply moving book that should receive the recognition it deserves. Part myth, part magic realism, the strong narrative voice of Donald sweeps through the book, carrying the reader with it. It attacks the destructiveness of dysfunctional families and how the absence of love can destroy the human spirit. It also addresses the importance of forgiveness, and letting go and starting over.

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