Floundering by Romy Ash: Leading the way to more Australian writing

Cover imageRomy Ash’s Floundering comes shortlisted for what must be just about every Australian literary prize there is, including the Miles Franklin Award which most of us literary poms have heard of. Aside from Tim Winton and Peter Carey, I don’t read much Australian fiction mainly, I suspect, because not much is published in the UK but that may change as this is the first book from the antipodean Text Publishing to be distributed here. If Floundering is a taste of what’s available their books are well worth seeking out, particularly as this one’s published straight into affordable paperback. It’s described in the press release as ‘powerful debut fiction’, a phrase which sets my sceptic antenna twitching – are they ever anything else? – but this one lives up to its description.

It begins as a road trip. Loretta swings by her parents’ home to pick up her two sons, Tom and Jordy, who she’d left on their doorstep a year ago because ‘things just got complicated’. They get in her car, not quite knowing what’s in store, and she drives off with not a word to their Gran and Pa. They’re on the road for days: what’s needed along the way is shoplifted; they sleep in the car; the heat is suffocating; insects bite mercilessly but Tom, who narrates the novel, manages to remain cheerful although increasingly uneasy and at times downright scared. His initial acceptance gives way to a terrible worry – where will he pee, what will they eat, where will they sleep. He and his older brother Jordy bicker while Loretta – never to be called Mum – chivvies them, often hung over, sometimes drinking at the wheel. They finally arrive at a campsite where Loretta slowly unravels, the heat bounces off everything and their next door neighbour Nev, can’t stand to have little boys around. Things go from bad to worse.

Through Tom’s voice, Ash manages to capture the panicky fear of an eleven-year-old boy unsure of what his increasingly chaotic and unpredictable mother will do next. Her writing is clean and crisp, punctuated with images made all the more striking for that. The all-pervasive heat of the Australian west coast is palpable, and if at first the reason for Nev’s surliness seems a little predictable,  Ash handles it well enough to avoid hackneyed cliché. It really is a powerful debut and it had me gripped to the end, dreading what horrors Tom and Jordy were about to meet.

8 thoughts on “Floundering by Romy Ash: Leading the way to more Australian writing”

  1. Sounds terrifying for all it’s realism, these are the kind of stories I find difficult to watch on screen, something to do with empathy and feeling like you are actually living it. Did you ever read Douglas Kennedy’s first slim novel The Dead Heart? Also set in Australia, it creates a similar effect, except that it an adult experiencing the unknown, making it even more unsettling for the reader.

    1. It’s a brave thing to write in the voice of an eleven-year-old boy and even more so if it’s your first novel. She captures that horrible, panicky feeling of having no real adult protection. I do remember The Dead Heart, back in Douglas Kennedy’s thriller days wasn’t it?

        1. I think he did two in that kind of vein then swiched to the soft focus covers and sold many, many more books!

  2. As one of your readers way down in Sydney, I’m here to offer a few suggestions.We have some great Aussie writers – keep your eye out for Burial Rites by Hannah Kent by Hannah Kent, The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, and Elemental by Amanda Curtin. All historical fiction as it happens – all females – all great debuts (except for Curtin). Hope you enjoy them.

    1. Many thanks for your recommendations! I’ve read and enjoyed Burial Rites – one of last year’s goodies – and have a copy of The Light Between Oceans in my TBR mountain but I’ll look out for Elemental. After I posted I remembered several other Australian writers I’d read and admired – Gail Jones, Murray Bail, David Malouf, Evie Wyld and Kate Grenville – another example of middle-aged memory syndrome on my part. Looking forward to discovering more.

  3. I was going to ask if you hadn’t read Kate Grenville, who I think is simply brilliant. This sounds as though it might be too much for me. I’m not good with novels where children are at risk. But I will make a note of the name and see what she brings out next.

    1. Yes, I was clearly suffering from middle-aged memory syndrome when writing this post as a whole list of Aussie writers I’d read and enjoyed popped into my head later. Floundering is excellent but some of that excellence lies in the authenticity of Tom’s voice which makes it a harrowing read at times so perhaps not one for you, Alex.

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.