Mum and Dad did not take me to the funeral. They left me with Mrs Carruthers, across the street. Mrs Carruthers gave me lamingtons and lemonade, as if it was a party day. Later, I went back to my place and discovered it was chock-a-block with relatives, both the ones Mum and Dad liked, and the ones they hated. Nobody mentioned Tom’s name, so I thought perhaps it was a kind of game, and Tom would jump out of a cupboard and grab me, the way we were always doing to each other. But he didn’t. Finally, Blarney Barney, Granddad’s offsider, and not a relative, came over to me.
‘How’re you holdin’ up there, young feller?’
‘Barn, no one’s talking to me, not even Granddad.’
It was the first time I’d spoken that day.
An 11-year-old boy, trying to escape the anniversary of the death of his twin, witnesses a violent murder. Unfortunately, the murderer sees him and so begins a game of cat-and-mouse all over and under Richmond and surrounds. He and his twin Tom were a close-knit pair, the strengths of one balancing the excesses of the other. Now Tom is gone, the boy has no idea of who he is, of who he should be. He’s lost his way. So he tries on a number of personas, and creates a map. The map will keep him safe, help him stay on track. Well, so the theory goes. But 1959 Richmond is a tough place, there’s more than one game being played. The boy is not alone in grieving for his brother.
The Cartographer is a wonderfully rich, dark and funny novel, exploring inner Melbourne and all its characters through the eyes of a young boy. It’s a overtly bleak world, peopled with good and bad, although it’s not always immediately obvious who is good and who is other. The urban and sub-urban landscape is drawn in great detail, and the reader is almost able to smell the mustiness, feel the damp, smell the various industrial smells. The boy is incredibly audacious and resourceful, and he needs to be. He certainly seems to find trouble at every turn. His grandfather might be dodgy, but he’s a life buoy for the boy in the wild seas of Richmond. Recommended, particularly for those who remember the streets, the nightmares, the freedoms of childhood.
The Cartographer, Peter Twohig
Fourth Estate 2012
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author