Hare’s Fur by Trevor Shearston, Scribe Publications, 2019, 240 pages, ISBN 9781925713473, $A27.99 from most bookstores or as an ebook for $A13.29
TUMBY BAY - Most people with an interest in Papua New Guinea will remember Trevor Shearston from his first book, a collection of short stories called Something in the Blood.
He then wrote a string of PNG-based titles, including Sticks That Kill, White Lies, Concertinas, A Straight Young Back and Dead Birds.
The readers and writers who follow PNG Attitude might also remember Trevor from when he attended the 2014 Crocodile Prize writer’s workshop at the National Library as guest speaker.
During that event I recall someone asking him whether he was going to write any more books based in Papua New Guinea. I think the question came from Francis Nii.
Trevor’s answer was a fairly emphatic no. Instead, he said he planned to concentrate on books with gum trees in them.
Since then we’ve seen Game, a novel about the bushranger Ben Hall and now this book about a 72-year old widowed potter called Russel living in the Blue Mountains near Katoomba who, while he is collecting material for his pots, discovers three children whose home is a cave.
The book is a rather pleasant surprise. In 2014 in Port Moresby he told us he was working on a novel about archaeology on the Australian east coast but that still seems to be cooking in the pot.
Apart from being a likeable and easy-going bloke, Trevor is a very good writer worth following even if he is no longer writing about Papua New Guinea.
Of this new novel he says, “I truly have no notion of where the storyline of the novel came from, why I had Russell meet the kids.
“I wish I could say I read an article in the local paper about three siblings hiding in a cave.
“That would be a nice simple explanation — for me as well. But I don’t have a cutting sitting in a file. Just a mass of scribbles in an exercise book.
“What I do know that did come from life, is that the teenage daughter of a troubled and violent pair of neighbours, regularly visited by the cops, gave me Jade. And she had a little brother.”
That gives you an insight into how Trevor develops his books but it also tells you something about writers in general.
When I was about halfway through Hare’s Fur I suddenly realised it was Trevor’s version of the old bloke’s book.
I recognised this because I had done the same thing with my last book, White River Road.
The old bloke’s book is basically a reflection written by writers who have recently hit 70 and are thinking about life and what it has meant.
The old bloke’s book follows a kind of chronological pattern. There is, for instance, the post mid-life crisis book where male writers reflect on their sexuality.
Trevor did this too with a not very successful 2002 novel called Tinder. I did the same thing with a novel called The Floating Island.
I’m not trying to claim any parallels between our writing, Trevor is a much better writer than I will ever be, but the chronological similarities are fascinating, especially when you apply them to other writers too.
I think that makes a good case for following Trevor’s post-PNG work because it gives you a fascinating insight into how the work of writers of his quality evolve.
Some of the earlier pottery detail in Hare’s Fur seems to me to be a bit overdone but once the scene is set the narrative moves along at a good pace and there are enough stops, starts and twists to carry it successfully through to the end.
Trevor is 72 and so is his main character Russell. If you are a bloke in that same golden decade the novel is a great read.
If you are younger and differently gendered read it for the good yarn it is and as a fine example of a master writer at work.