Summerland by Malcolm Knox is a story narrated by Richard. Now in his thirties, Richard recounts his life one sleepless night following the death of his wife Pup, and his best friend, Hugh. While getting through the night with the help of three bottles of whisky, Richard reflects on his ignorance that resulted in a seemingly charmed existence as part of Sydney’s upper class.
Richard recounts his memories with Hugh — a childhood friend, and later, with Pup and Hugh’s wife, Helen. He reminisces about carefree summers spent at Palm Beach and how none of them had a care in the world. Richard’s view of his relationship with Hugh moves between love and loathing — he describes Hugh’s adultery and being complicit in the same while at the same time, admonishing him in retrospect. Ultimately, it all leads to him telling us how Hugh and Pup die while questioning his naïveté during these years.
I found this novel a tough read — not because it’s hard or literary by any means but because it seemed incoherent. I did not like any of the characters and found it hard to identify with them. I understood that Richard was meant to be an unreliable narrator as memory and alcohol tend to do that to a person but at the same time, I didn’t want to believe him or even feel sympathetic towards him because there was nothing likeable. I usually like unreliable narrators such as those in Gone Girl and Girl on the train.
From the other main characters, Hugh is greedy and self-involved, Pup is a narcissist and Helen is just blindly in love. They are all made of old money and consequently, it’s hard to empathise with them. Had I not been reading this for a reading challenge, I’d probably have left it mid-way. That should be a suggestion about how much I cared about what happened to Hugh and Pup!
Until next time,