Fear Of Staying by Jan Harden. Reviewed by John Cook

Fear of Staying

 

The reference for this book was passed to me from Robert, our Coordinator, who was approached by the author for comment. I purchased my copy from Amazon and read it on Kindle.

The author lived in Queensland when young and now lives in the Netherlands. Given his name and residence, one has to assume Dutch ancestry. Given that the text covers incidents in a number of countries (UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Russia, New Zealand and Australia) it is a fair bet that many of the incidents in the book arise from the author’s personal peregrinations.

The theme relates to an individual raised locally – Redcliffe, probably in the fifties when it was often a low-rent area frequently home to immigrants who liked the seaside location and lower rents (think Bee Gees). His experiences with his family and special friends (two middle aged men who have a run-down car yard on Marine Parade) are somewhat rough and ready but formative with the exception of an eventual incident that sends him away into a lifestyle trending into hospitality and accommodation. This would be unremarkable except that it is presented as a series of events to which he is unable to respond except by moving on, leaving a number of children behind – hence the title ‘Fear of Staying’.

There is no shortage of interest in the different locations and the stories that unfold there. It is unfortunate that the linkages developed to unify these which are based mainly on some fortuitous connections are rather weak. It often felt as though I was being treated to someone’s travel diaries loosely linked.

The narrating voice can only be described as loudly traditional Aussie complete with ‘matey’ asides and a line in slang that is dated and obtrusive. The author offsets this with a commentating voice via the extended footnotes which at least lightens the tone.

The author expressed to our coordinator an interest in responses to his two homosexual characters at the given time and place. I holidayed, as a child at Woody Point, and, as a result of a parental illness, lived on the peninsula for a couple of Grades and attended Humpybong school, as does the central character. I can agree that by the seventies I became aware of a handful of longer term gay male relationships but most were in occupations that rendered their lifestyle less obvious. I felt that the ‘good but rough fellers’ characterization employed, particularly after their death, was a bit overdone.

The author was also concerned as to how well he had represented life in Queensland at the specific times he described. This was tolerably well done but included a range of factual and typographical errors that grated at times. I noted frequent misspellings of Redcliffe to Redcliff and Samford to Stamford, references to watching the surf below Marine Parade (not unless there was heavy weather), purchasing groceries at Coles in paper bags when this could not have been the case, Jacobs Creek cask wine (not that I remember as a goony drinker), the CARS scheme at the wrong time, someone asked why anyone would go on holiday to Redcliffe ( a long history of just that), apparent insouciance in handling flying foxes compared with rabid ones in Russia (obviously hasn’t heard of lyssavirus), and Red Guards on guard in Red Square (!).

An interesting read but I felt little for the central character and some confusion with the brief mentions of minor characters. The atmosphere of Redcliffe in older times was quite well evoked.

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