By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Time’s Long Ruin
By Stephen Orr (Wakefield Press, $24.95, softcover, 422 pages)
It was a tragedy that occurred 46 years ago, but this award-winning novel successfully reworks an actual urban nightmare that has haunted the Australian consciousness in all that time.
Time’s Long Ruin is loosely based on the disappearance of the Beaumont children on a hot Australia Day from Glenelg Beach, in Adelaide, in 1966.
Written considerately, Stephen Orr rewords a fictional, but persuasive and disturbing account of this mystery rewinding to six years earlier with the Riley children—Janice, Anna and Gavin.
It is narrated by nine-year-old neighbour Henry Page, with a club foot, who looks upon them as “my three best friends, my only friends really”.
This is a story not just about love, loss and friendship, but is an account of the heartache and disappointments for those left behind, how they manage to continue living, the constant searches and their plans and dreams that are only ever put on hold.
The novel’s first half maintains a slow tempo giving Orr the opportunity to develop the characters and for the readers to get to know them. The personalities of the Riley children are wonderfully etched which makes their disappearance even harder to take.
Henry’s reminiscing, at times, is heart-breaking.
A remarkable achievement is the gradual, shattering change highlighted among the family and friends of the victims. The real tragedy is on those left behind, shattering any sense of complacency regarding safety in the suburbs.
The second half sifts through the recollections, outcomes of the endless searches, the optimism, cross-examinations, encouragement, anger, guilt, doubt, blame, accusations and apologies.
Orr replies through this examination to the question in the sub-title: ‘What happens when children disappear?’ That’s better than seeking answers to who committed the crime.
It’s fitting that this novel won the 2012 National Year of Reading title for South Australia.
Edition 405, 15 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.