on July 09, 2014
This novel is based in New Zealand but there are also scenes in Australia, Canada and the UK. There are 3 parts to the novel which has a plot set in the present day (1990s) accompanied by an elaborate back story. It is the story of Gerry, a 28 year old, who has left a career in medicine to become a song-writer. The novel starts with Gerry visiting his home in Nelson NZ after finding success as a songwriter in Canada. We get the impression he is flush with cash and has found new love with a Canadian woman. Returning home is a nostalgic experience and we get a lot of scenes about life growing up in the 1960s. His father Graham, a bombastic semi-retired surgeon is keen for an argument, although he is more of a buffoon than a mean person, The generation gap of the 60s is a dominant theme here and throughout the book Gerry and Graham argue about the past dredging up a family back story of flawed relationships, teenaged rebellion and failed expectations. During much of the novel Gerry and his father are away on a 3 day trek in the mountains, a trip suggested by Gerry’s mother Julia, who we understand early on has had her fill of Graham. Being alone together allows the two to lay out the bare bones of the family’s history. We learn of Gerry’s close relationship with troubled sister Isobel, much of the action taking place in the 2nd part of the novel in the university city Dunedin. Here, Gerry’s life as an intensive care doctor becomes mired in a world of relationships and dubious medical ethics. In this part of the novel we get detailed scenes of medicine at it’s most acute as patient’s lives hang in the balance while steamy relationships and professional jealousy get in the way. Gerry and his sister’s coming of age moments occur in the 3rd part of the novel in the UK after they have escaped the madness of Dunedin. Ultimately though we return to the father and son at the end of their trek as near disaster leads to the most cathartic moment of the story. The themes then that are addressed in this novel are coming of age, the generation gap, the effects of trauma in childhood, and a big dose of medical ethics.