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The Restorer by Michael Sala, Text Publishing Company, February 2017, 352 pages, $20.75, ISBN 9781925355024

BRISBANE - Several weeks out from this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival), I received a copy of Dutch-born Michael Sala’s latest novel from his publisher, Text Publishing Company.

Opening the white postage packet, I retrieved the book and was immediately struck by Australian writer Hannah Kent’s challenge on the front cover: “I would defy anyone to read this story and remain unmoved”.

It was a most accurate prediction.

The Restorer is Sala’s second novel and follows his critically acclaimed debut offering, The Last Thread, for which he was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Award for New Writing and was a regional winner in the Commonwealth Book Prize.

The Restorer is a compelling story that captures the dynamics of everyday individuals bound by unspoken and unacceptable personal violation.

But confusion, anxiety and heartbreak are outweighed by the tender hope that people have the capacity to change - a central theme in this narrative about a distressing and universal issue.

A year after leaving Roy, Maryanne reunites with him, agreeing that a fresh start in coastal Newcastle will be vital in reconciling their marriage breakdown. Maryann also believes this will be a necessary step in reconnecting seven year-old Daniel and new teen Freya with their estranged father.

Throughout the family’s separation, all three have sought refuge in Maryanne’s mother’s (Alice) home throughout the family separation. Dis-anchoring from her grandmother is deeply felt by Freya.

Moments before their departure, Alice pledges her unwavering presence by silently thrusting a book of Greek mythology into her granddaughter’s hands. Inscribed inside the book’s front cover is Alice’s telephone number.

Settling in just before the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, the family navigates its way to resume personal connections amidst renovating their derelict home.

On both accounts, progress is slow and tumultuous but functioning. Roy commences a new position as a foreman, Maryanne is employed as a nurse at the local hospital and both children start at their new schools.

But the glue of their interdependence is subtle control and manipulation.

Michael Sala’s description of Freya’s high school experience illuminates well the complexities of human behaviour. Also conveyed nicely is the dynamic between child-observer and poor role-modelling by adults.

The author also writes perceptively of the long term implications of muted reaction and how experience behind closed doors transpires to behaviour in public spaces.

The raw dialogue of the adolescents at Freya’s high school lunch table and in the classroom corridors, sexual harassment during alcohol and drug-fuelled weekend parties and acts of delinquency by Freya and her best friend Josh, underline a familiar simmering tension apparent in the daily interactions between her parents. Increasingly, the resentment among the family members becomes visible.

The description of a sinking ship in Newcastle’s harbour is a poignant metaphor for the hopeful anticipation yet underlying unpredictability if this family’s journey.

The title, The Restorer, captures the role these individuals need to adopt in bringing about some normalcy. And, reaching out to the sinking ship of this family, grandmother Alice and empathic friends are there to render timely assistance in an effort to restore respectful and acceptable behaviour.

Reflecting his in-person demeanour, Michael Sala’s prose is clear, unforced and inspires reflection long after the words are imparted. Insight, a rich depth of awareness and a sustained authentic connection with readers are evident throughout this exemplary work of fiction.

Before and throughout our presentation at the writers’ festival, Sala showed his warmth and commitment to using his writing to address inter-generational violence and its effect on the individual and community.

Too often society asks questions and acquires a swift stream of answers without fully examining the truths already in front of it.

The Restorer is a powerful and important work of literature in contributing to the way in which societies may understand how best to move forward.


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Rashmii Bell

Delighted for Michael Sala as 'The Restorer' has been announced in the 2018 Australian Book Industry Awards Longlist under the category: Small Publishers Adult Book of the Year.
Shortlist released in April and winners announced May.

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