A bright yellow convertible slithers into the gutter outside my gate. Flashy. European – or Japanese with European pretensions. Too obviously pricey, anyway. For a while, nothing happens, then the driver’s-side door swing open and out steps a rather attractive blonde. Young, pert and lissom, if a bit over-presented. The silky blouse, the stilettos, that skirt so tight she has to wiggle it down over her bum. Swinging a read-leather bag over her shoulder, she gathers a clipboard from the seat, then pauses to peer up at the house with that all-too-familiar expression – evaluating, appraising, judging, doing the mental arithmetic. From the way she quickly looks away, I gather she’s spotted me peeking out from behind the curtains.
Frankly, I’m getting heartily sick of these people. I wish they’d just leave me alone. Although I must admit she’s a cut above the paunchy middle-aged blokes they usually dispatch in my direction.
Harry Bascombe is an old man, and he’s not doing it gracefully. He lives alone in his family house, rarely venturing out. But an unexpected request has him revisiting his past and remembering details long buried. The story flits back and forth between that final year of primary school and the present. The past is 1956 Melbourne with its social mores, playground politics and the anticipation of the Olympic Games. Harry was a diffident child, bullied and navigating a challenging home life. It is that year that a journalist is interested in. Harry has to revisit a traumatic time and decide just how much of it he wants to share, and with whom.
Like waking a sleeping dinosaur, visiting the past can be dangerous and have unexpected consequences, even for those who were there. Harry-of-the-present isn’t a terribly likable character but his revisiting of the past begins to provide some understanding of his behaviours and some empathy. Truth and recollection begin to diverge as Harry revisits his unsettled childhood. Asking for Trouble is told in the first person and Harry is a truly unreliable narrator, prone to rewriting events even as they are happening. The action flits between the present as Harry decides whether or not to be part of a documentary about his past. The past and the present finally meet and the climax takes the reader to a place of uncertainty even in its inevitability. Peter Timms is an experienced writer of non-fiction and this is his first novel.
Asking for Trouble, Peter Timms Fourth Estate 2014 ISBN: 9780732298432
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller