The Place on Dalhousie, Melina Marchetta

Talk about getting what you wished for! I wrote a few weeks ago, in comments after Saving Francesca that “I’d be interested to read a Melina Marchetta that covered the next few years, 17,18 through to mid twenties like say Normal People, though perhaps her style would be too gentle.” The Place on Dalhousie is Marchetta’s latest and here is a quote from p.4.

And that’s all it takes. A couple of drinks and she’s back in some strange guy’s room, upstairs at the pub. His calloused fingers find their way between her legs and she realises she’s going to spend another night of her life screwing a guy she doesn’t know. Makes her feel as if she can’t climb out of the bat cave, and the bleakness is smothering.

‘She’ is Rosie, 19 year old daughter of Sicilian immigrants, passing through a central Queensland town (probably based on Theodore, 560 km NW of Brisbane). Her life is a mess. Her mother has died of cancer. Her father who spent years rebuilding the old house ‘on Dalhousie’ in inner western Sydney, has remarried, to Martha, the daughter of German immigrants, and then been killed in a traffic accident. The guy she doesn’t know is Jimmy. They spend the next week or so helping residents deal with a major flood, then go their separate ways.

We move on a couple of years. Martha, forty-ish, is dealing with a stressful job, with being a widow, with a girl upstairs with a screaming baby, with a girl upstairs who won’t talk to her but insists that the house is hers. Her best friend gets her to join a netball team with some of their old class mates, most of whom she has spent the last twenty years avoiding. Marchetta it seems, is big on the bonds formed at school.

Jimmy responds 15 months late to the text informing him he is a father. He is now working on the mines up north, week on, week off. Rosie is not impressed but Jimmy hangs around, couch surfing when he can get down to Sydney, with his own old schoolmates from inner-western Sydney. At some stage my goldfish brain finally catches on – twenty-something Jimmy and Frankie and Tara and so on are the 17 year-olds from Saving Francesca.

Poor Jimmy has to work very hard to convince Rosie he’s worth bothering with.

She holds out the crying kid for Jimmy to take, but he doesn’t.
‘When he gets used to me, maybe,’ he says.
Rosie cradles the sobbing baby, but it doesn’t seem to help. And that’s it for the day. No more talking, just a lot of standing around and soaking in the mess.

Martha has a love interest. She has sex with a football hero/older brother of one of her classmates in the back seat of his (presumably dual cab) ute after a funeral, and two or three times after. Yes, they do have homes, they just seem to have a thing about reliving their, twenty years previous, school days.

The football hero guy is also their netball coach, so that makes one plot line. The ups and downs of Jimmy and Rosie being parents and learning to talk to each other, makes another. Then, we get bits and pieces of the lives of the Saving Francesca crowd (whom I read were also in another novel, The Piper’s Son), and of the Sydney inner-west Italian community to which both Frankie (Francesca) and Rosie belong, so there’s plenty going on.

Rosie joins a new mothers group for support from which she and another couple of misfits (ie. non-Anglos) are shunted, and as they get over their prickliness they form a support group of their own. She starts working in an old people’s home and of course that’s the home where football guy, whom she doesn’t know at that stage, places his father. There’s ongoing background hum about a lost Monaro which eventually stretches concidence even further. But mostly it’s just an easygoing story of people and their lives, intertwined in ways that I as a constant moving-onner find both interesting and a bit unbelievable.

No, it’s not literary fiction – I may finally get a mention in the AWCC General fiction round-up (I think I missed out with Jane Harper and Liane Moriarty) – but nevertheless an interesting step up from the schoolgirls of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.

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Melina Marchetta, The Place on Dalhousie, Penguin Random House, Melbourne, 2019. 277pp.

23 thoughts on “The Place on Dalhousie, Melina Marchetta

  1. I’m glad you finished your Marchetta journey with her adult book. I forgot that this one had a link back to Saving Francesca. I think my journey is done with Alibrandi – I loved it and the movie – but never felt the need to read further.

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    • I’m glad I had a look at these two works. Marchetta was always worth following up after the big success of Alibrandi. And now I’ve done it I can move on to all the other authors I’ve neglected.

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  2. ‘Easygoing’ is a good description – I enjoyed this book. A light, gentle read, a little escape – I don’t think it ever promised to be more than that, and there was a lovely feeling through the whole thing. I guess bits stretched credibility but again, didn’t matter when I was reading.

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  3. I’m reading this quartet of books about Vianne Rocher by Joanne Harris, and in them Vianne is always struggling with whether to move or not. Her mother constantly moved her when she was a girl, whenever the wind called, and Vianne did it with her own daughter for a time. But this idea of being “a constant moving-onner” — I can’t tell if it’s stressful or adventuresome.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your write up of this Bill. If I were the AWW General Fiction editor I’d include this!! It seems to me that you got the gist of it perfectly. I have one question and that’s whether it usefully discusses migrant culture and challenges the way Alibrandi did. That would be it’s only real drawcard for me – though, really, like Brona I’ve pretty much decided that Alibrandi is where I start and finish with her.

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    • Rosie is Sicilian but Marchetta doesn’t make a big thing of it, and it plays only a small part in her interactions with others. Marchetta is obviously comfortable with the migrant community of Sydney’s inner west but it’s just background here.
      (And I’m only a minnow in the AWWC General Fiction pool, I can bear to miss out).

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  5. I’ve not read her, but there’s something seductive about that kind of plainspeak coming-of-age story. (Although as others have said above in the comments, sometimes, in the wrong mood, it’s more irritating than inviting!) Some of what you’ve said about it reminds me of an Elizabeth Berg sequence of novels (the Katie Nash stories) although I don’t recall any explicit talk of s*x in those (been a couple of decades though). She’s an easygoing read too, although she does brush up against sad subjects.

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