This was the third time I have read The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randoph Stow. The first time was at school where I loathed it with a passion. I found it at that time boring and did not relate to the 6 year old narrator at all. About fifteen years ago I decided to reread all my high school texts. Billy Budd, Kenneth Slessor’s poems, Silas Marner and this one. Second time round I enjoyed it immensely. It was true that nothing really happened but we were given a delightful glimpse inside a boys thoughts about his life, growing up in wartime Australia in Geraldton and farms in Western Australia. It is also the story of the boy’s hero, his cousin Rick, who goes off to war but spends most of it in Japanese camps in Singapore and Malaysia where he is subjected to cruelties and starvation no man should have to suffer. This is a coming of age novel and we looked at the discovery of time and place through the growing boy’s eyes. The narrative starts ane ends with the merry-go-round in the sea. This third time was because I recommended it as an Australian Classic for our book club. Now that I have read this book I again loved it but this time there were some glaring changes to what I considered right and proper in terms of referring to indigenous Australians. Given when the book was published it would not have rung true if these words had not been used. It is simply a societal change that has happened in my life time.
Stow writes lyrically and the description of the Australian landscape were evocative and moving. (I would love to give you some examples but my copy was borrowed at the end of our meeting by someone who had only had access to the audio version.) He successfully captured the child’s voice (a stream of conscious style of writing) and the various adult voices. The back cover said that this was a self portrait but not autobiographical and I wondered which character he had based on himself. I decided that it was Rick a troubled soul – as was Stow himself.
Would I recommend this book – Absolutely but be warned some of you will hate it. Three out of our members hated it and two decided not to come to the meeting as they couldn’t read it. The other five of us gave it scores from 8 -9 which is high for our group. It will certainly give you a taste of Australia and what it was like to grow up here. Is it the same growing up anywhere? Read it and let me know what you think.