Meet Eleanor Rigby: tiny, blind and left behind. Led by her zealous, overprotective guide dog, Warren, she courses constantly through the places she knows. Tired, mired and sequestered from the world, Eleanor can’t shirk the feeling she’s going nowhere slowly. Until, of course, she recognises something in the sound of Ewan Dempsey, reclusive and compulsive maker and player of cellos, who impels in Eleanor a rare moment of caprice … (Amazon)
As with many debut novels, it is evident this story had percolated in Craig Silvey’s mind for some time before putting pen to paper. It is very ambitious. So much so, that at times it’s like he’s thought of too may ideas and clever linkages to fit them all in one novel – that being the only criticism I can make of a wonderful debut.
Rhubarb is one of the most original novels I have read in some time.
It is hard to explain the beauty of this novel without giving away the storyline, so forgive me for my apparent opaqueness – but you’ll see what I mean when you take the journey for yourself.
Rhubarb is full of real characters – flawed individuals. Silvey deftly peels back the layers of the protagonists, Eleanor and Ewan, and a wonderful quirky ensemble cast, like one peels an onion. Slowly but surely he reveals the characters pasts and what motivates them. Silvey takes the reader on a ride, seeing the world from the mind of each of the characters along with the vantage point of an all-seeing spectator. In this way, Silvey draws out the difference between the character’s perception of themselves compared to what others see.
Rhubarb goes into territory I did not expect it to tread – dark and very sad places – but Silvey does so in a very artful and stylistic way. He weaves into the story clever link backs and wordplays that I found very charming and personable. There is a real musicality about the sections of stream of consciousness prose that add to the compelling tension.
The key to the success of Rhubarb is the dry humor and levity Craig Silvey has so carefully melded with the sad story lines.
Many of the light hearted moments are brought about when the reader is invited into the mind of Warren the guide dog, who holds a unique viewpoint of the world in which he lives.
Warren negotiates a sea of knees and shins and shoes. Narrowly avoids an imminent collision with a fast approaching pram. The saved toddler displays its gratitude by tugging hard at his ear. Warren quells a snappish growl, and resumes the dodging of self-absorbed meteors. (Of course, if he received the Respect he truly deserved, he wouldn’t have to; he’d be cutting swathes through these people.) Instead he stops and starts and stops and waits, made all the harder by guiding a sponge with legs.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rhubarb and look forward to reading more from Craig Silvey in the future.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5 — Overall 4.75
Genre: Literature, Drama, Romance
Author Information: Craig Silvey grew up on an orchard in the south of Western Australia. First published in 2004, Rhubarb won him a Best Young Australian Novelist Award by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2005. His second novel, Jasper Jones, was released in 2010 and was shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Check out his website.