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6 August 2010
Review: ACCESS ROAD, Maurice Gee
As she watches her brother losing the battle with his memories, Rowan wonders how long she can keep her own past at bay
The old family home in Access Road, where Lionel, Roly and Rowan grew up, is crumbling away - but after more than fifty years Lionel and Roly are back. Rowan too, otherwise safe in her 'upper crusty' suburb, is drawn more and more strongly 'out west'.
The past is dangerously alive. Clyde Buckley - violent as a boy; enigmatic, subterranean as an old man - returns to his childhood territory. What does he want? What crimes does he hide? And how is Lionel involved? Rowan must abandon safety if she is to find out . . .
Penguin categorises ACCESS ROAD as modern and contemporary fiction, and it really has the feel of a cross-genre novel. Rowan Pinker nee Beach is the narrator, describing what it was like being part of the Beach family, growing up on Access Road, near Te Atatu Road, on the outskirts of Auckland. Rowie's two brothers Lionel and Roly were different in many ways, one clever, the other always finding school a struggle, both leaving home in their late teens. We see seven decades of Beach family history through Rowie's eyes. Finally the brothers come home, bachelors, back to the house they lived in as boys, and Rowie visits them each week, looking after them in their old age, just as her mother would have done had she still been alive.
Much of the novel focusses on how life in New Zealand has changed over the years and there were many times when I mentally thought I know what that was like. And yet the reader knows that hidden by the years there is a crime. When Clyde Buckley returns we know it is just a matter of time until all is revealed.
ACCESS ROAD is bit different to my usual fare. It's not a police procedural, not noir, nor a thriller, not a cozy, and the crime almost takes a back seat. If I had to compare the style with someone else's, I'd suspect it owes a bit to Australia's Patrick White. It is a carefully layered story, building to its climax in the final pages.
My rating: 4.6
Maurice Gee has long been considered one of New Zealand's finest writers. He has written more than thirty books for adults and young adults and has won numerous literary awards, including the UK's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award and the New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award.
Another review to check: Craig Sisterson's Crime Watch