SEPTEMBER READING: THE CARTOGRAPHER by Peter Twohig
Life looks different through the eyes of a child than it does for us adults! Grown-up challenges, disappointments, responsibilities gradually dilute that magic view of our childhood lives and the things that were so important to us at the time. Isn't it strange how the street you grew up in looks so much smaller and narrower when you revisit it years later. Just imagine how much stranger it would be if you found the map of your neighbourhood that you so scrupulously and carefully crafted when you were eleven, showing above ground and below ground, and looked at it with your now adult eyes!
Not that this happens in this novel, but I imagine our young hero treasuring for a very long time, the intricate and detailed map that he put together over a few months when he was eleven, struggling to find himself, dealing with the sudden and tragic death of his twin brother, Tom, a year earlier, and his parents' collapsing marriage.
It is Melbourne, 1959. Our nameless hero, simply Tom's twin, is a sad, lonely, confused and unhappy little boy. But he is also stoic, highly imaginative, very observant, independent, insanely curious and thanks to his special survival bag very self-sufficient. His exploring starts when his father finally leaves the family home, giving our hero his mission of finding out exactly where he has gone to live. His curiosity leads him up and down alley ways and path ways, front yards and back yards, and an absolute magnet for any curious, adventurous child - a ladder leaning against a house. Up he scoots and promptly witnesses a murder. Now a man on the run, he spends large chunks of the unfolding story avoiding the murderer, and various other miscreants/crooks/scary people he encounters along the way. His flight path(s) eventually takes him into the drainage system of the suburb of Richmond, which he explores very methodically, opening up a whole new world. So what does one do with all this knowledge - he maps it! Hence the name he gives himself 'The Cartographer' along with 'The Outlaw', 'The Railwayman', in addition to his all-round superhero capabilities. There are references galore to the fictional heroes of the time - the Phantom, Wonder Woman, Mandrake, Biggles, Kim from Rudyard Kipling, the Wizard of Oz. An extra ordinary child really!
And so over the course of his adventures and exploits, our young hero gradually comes to terms with the death of his brother, his family situation, and develops stronger bonds with the 'good' grown ups in his life - his grandfather, the Sandersons who live nearby, and one or two others. Narrated in the first person, he is a fabulous little guy, trying to make sense of all that is going on around him, trusting his instincts in these new situations he finds himself in and the variety of people he is meeting.
It is not a perfectly well told story however. I did lose track a bit of who some of the characters were, their relationships with other characters, and what they were sort of all there for! I thought maybe this might be a reflection of the unbelievable activity going on in the boy's brain, but thinking again, if he is so meticulous in his map making skills, then he would be just as diligent in keeping track of those he meets and how they inter relate with each other. But he doesn't. As a result the book is too long, and there are probably a few too many deviations from the main thread. But it is still a most entertaining read, with a most lovable young lad at its centre.