Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NOVEL - Strange Objects by Gary Crew - Year 9 - BOOK REVIEW

‘Strange Objects’ by Gary Crew is original, it has believable and three dimensional characters, and it deals with relevant issues to the time period it is set in. These issues include racism and sensationalism of the media, depicting 1980'S Australia and 17th Century Europe. ‘Strange Objects’ is also an interesting read, and in the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.’ You will definitely enjoy reading this book.
'Strange Objects' depicts the  events of the main character, a teenager by name of Steven Messenger. Set in rural Western Australia, it takes several different perspectives on the topic of Steven Messenger's discovery at the beginning of the book. There is a lot going on. First, there is the news report on the discovery of mummified hand in a 'Cannibal Pot', found by Messenger in a cave where he is hiding out and spying on his Biology class on a field trip. Also present are a ring and a leather journal.

Tom Wolfe has said in his review: “To me, it’s a novel that pulls you inside the central nervous system of the characters and makes you feel in your bones their motivations as affected by the society of which they are a part. It is folly to believe that you can bring the psychology of an individual to light without putting him very firmly in a social setting”. The characters are written in a manner where their personalities develop over a series of events that occur throughout the book. Crew has written the novel in a series of documents, newspaper articles and journal entries which makes the book an interesting read and a masterful use of 'intertextuality'. The story is also original as Crew had used Australian history to introduce issues occurring in the modern society.

The novel addresses a range of issues that were relevant at the time, mainly racism towards the Aboriginals. In the 1980’s, all over Australia, racism towards aboriginals was a growing problem. In the small town on coastal Western Australia racism towards Aboriginals appears rife. When Messenger, first meets Charlie Sunrise, a local Aboriginal elder, he calls him an “Abo”, a derogatory word used towards Aboriginals throughout white history. He continues to use this term throughout the book. In Item 4: “The Abo kids from near the town were OK and clean enough, but the ones who came in from the properties weren’t the same. They need a wash and looked as if they’d cut your throat.” The outright racism in the novel helps open the reader's eyes to the issues that were present at the time.

The book's main character (Steven Messenger) is one open for deep[ analysis. Though not obvious early in the book, It is clear by the end of the book that something is terribly wrong with Steven Messenger in terms of his mental state, (foreshadowed in the beginning of the book by the way he lacked interaction with his peers, preferring to be an outsider, watching). The way the author leads us on the Messenger journey is one of great interest. As the story unfolds, the character of Steven Messenger is created to be fairly realistic in terms of appearance. He definitely isn't your perfect fairy tale knight, which creates a true sense of realism to the story's main character. Throughout the story, we see Messenger's mental state deteriorate from bad to worse after the introduction of the ring found in the 'Cannibal Pot.' Through the diary entries featured in the Messenger Documents, (which is what the story is compiled of), we can see the change that Messenger goes through. Early on in the story, Messenger uses a home made Shanghai (slingshot), to shoot birds on a cliff (page 72 - 73). He clearly doesn't understand what Nigel Kratzman is so unsettled about when he tries to shoot some of the gulls, the deduction being that he doesn't mind killing animals (often a trait seen by phychologists and psychatrists in psycopaths). Later on in the book, it appears that Messenger's dreams of the ring are starting to protrude into his real life, seeming like hallucinations. These hallucinations are not explained by Crew, leaving the interpretation up to the reader. Is Messenger mentally ill? Is he experiencing supernatural events? Did the people and events he sees in his dreams really happen? If so, (and the reader knows they relate to the 'Batavia' wreck, what possible explanation could there be?

'Strange Objects' finds its inspiration in a real world event, the shipwreck and mutiny of the 'Batavia', a Dutch trading vessel from the 17th century, a tale of mutiny and murder. This event actually occurred and the characters on Wouter Loos' side of the story are all based on a real-life figure from the Batavia. This not only adds a sense of realism and believability to Crew's story, but also encourages interest in this event in history and perhaps other current events. The reader finds out that the hand belonged to Ela, a 'Batavia' survivor, who was murdered 300 years ago.

The novel, 'Strange Objects' is such an original book, with its real-life inspiration of the 'Batavia' parallelling events happening in modern Australia. It is a rich study of media bias, racism and one boy's psychological journey. It is an enjoyable read. You will feel you have discovered some truths yourself in its reading.

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