Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95 IBBN 9780702253959
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Here is a verse novel from award-winning Australian poet and author, Steven Herrick, which illuminates mateship, family relationships, and navigating life.
For typical Aussie teenagers, Jonah and Manx, life mainly encompasses fishing (for mullet) at the local Coraki lake, watching — and joining — school mates party on Friday nights and looking for courage to further develop their relationships with Ella and Rachel. There are other problems, of course, insofar as Jonah’s warring parents are ending their marriage, motherless Manx has issues, too, and the boys’ lakeside town is about to be sold off to city outsiders for redevelopment. This creates tension in town, especially when someone scrawls graffiti against the Sydney interlopers on the local real estate office owned by newcomers, the Lloyd-Davies.
The story has strong messages which are magnified due to the format of verse with characters and scenes being conveyed in fewer words than that of a conventional novel. Herrick is a master at capturing so much in few words; his writing is crisp and succinct and evocative. There is a strong sense of place in the novel with tight but descriptive language that introduces the creek, the lake, the swamp near Lake Road (site of Manx’s house), the ocean, and the town with its large pensioner population. Both boys were born in Turon where Jonah’s dad runs the petrol station with its mostly truckie customers and ‘goggle-eyed tourists’ on their way to Balarang Bay.
Herrick’s prose perfectly captures the book’s characters. Here’s a description of Manx as seen through Jonah’s eyes: ‘He walks like a draught-horse pulling a load/his head pushed forward, chin up/and muscular arms hanging by his side./His voice is a few octaves deeper and bass, hands the size of boxing gloves,/dark hair sprouting from each of his knuckles.’
In each verse, which has its own sub-title, one aspect of the town or its people, is described. For example, there are the consecutive sections called ‘Vodka Cruisers’ and ‘Broken Glass and Bravado’ where after drinking ‘the night always ends/with broken bottles/piled up on the sand/and all of year ten/wondering who’ll vomit first.’
If you are trying to get a teenager to read – especially a boy – this novel with its terse, and what have been described as ‘iridescent,’ verses, is a great book to encourage him to read. As usual, it’s likely that Another Night in Mullet Town will take out some literary awards.