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book review: No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington

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no Place like home - Random House

the author and the book

Caroline Overington is an award-winning investigative journalist that has turned her hand to successfully writing contemporary Australian novels. No Place Like Home was published under the banner of ‘A Bantam Book by Random House Australia’ in 2013. It follows other novels, Sisters of Mercy, Matilda is Missing, Ghost Child and I Came to Say Goodbye.

the blurb

“Shortly after 9.30am, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb around his neck…………….” (short version)

the review

Written with journalistic sensibility this tense drama is set in a shopping centre and involves ‘ordinary people’ that we all could interact with on a daily basis – it could just be the topic of a report we watch unfold in the nightly news.  Told from the view of Police Chaplain, Paul Doherty we hear the often untold story of those involved in a siege, this one involving a bomb attached to a refugee in the unlikely setting of a lingerie shop.  However, this story goes beyond the issues of refugees in Australia, it explores what it is to be human in a society trying to understand itself.

Although not the overt purpose of the book, morality is explored in a number of situations, particularly, in the treatment of the refugee Ali Khan by a number of the characters, and in general as someone who has been invited to live in our country.  It also looks at other moral issues such as fidelity, honesty, valour, materialism and our beliefs.

Some characters that we meet in the novel we can empathise with and others just make us shake our heads, but they are all integral to this novel.  Paul Doherty tries to explain the twist and turns of the circumstances and gives us someone who we can relate to in this day and age – questioning his faith and place in the world.  Among the characters that Paul introduces us to are the five people in the lingerie shop (why are they all in a lingerie shop?…. you will have to read to find out) and throughout the book we learn more about each, there is Mouse the ‘bunny eared’ shop assistant, Kimmie a nail technician, Roger a real estate salesman, Mitchell a schoolboy on a mission to buy a video game and of course, Ali Khan who has the bomb attached to him.

I found themes of loss and regret entwined with the more complex issues of the plot.  The loss of innocence, commitment, trust and ultimately the life we should value. We also see how hindsight plays its role in how we remember and perceive our life.

favourite quote

Although not directly related to the central motif of the siege, I thought this quote lets us know that it is definitely Australian and also gives us the sense of the loss that is brought to bear in this novel.

He could tell by looking that the armchair had been Amy’s father’s, and only his: there was something about the way the material at the end of the seat was worn away, where the old man’s hands had gripped for years, watching Channel Nine News and World Series Cricket.”(p.247)

Australia is suffering from perplexity around the issue of refugees, what is it we should be doing? It would seem there are more opinions than solutions, but Overington’s treatment of the issue within the non-threatening environment of fiction is able to make us consider what we think about the issue. It may not provide the solution but at least it gets it into the front of our minds so we keep thinking about what it is we should be doing and maybe rethink some of the things we have been doing.

most intriguing character – Ali Khan

What do we think of refugees?  What do they think of us?  From Paul Doherty’s perspective we are able to see how many of the characters interacted with Ali Khan. We hear about the treatment he receives not only in Australia as a refugee but as an outcast of his own country.  What makes this character so intriguing is that we never actually hear his side of the story.

Written in a quite distinctive yet simple prose the book offers what could be called an ‘easy’ read.  Not a 600 page epic but a ‘slice of life’ in 352 pages.  It is a book that engages you in a short space of time then carries you at a measured pace to be able to complete within a few hours – if you really want to – I lingered longer because I wanted to enjoy it a little bit more.

What I find with Overington’s novels, is that they stir emotions and this book is no exception. Consider how you would feel if it was your son, daughter, husband, niece, friend, employee under threat and what would you think of the person you believe is threatening them?

I always think that a good book is a book that makes you ‘feel’, whether it is joy, sadness, anger or just generally questioning what life is about and No Place Like Home does exactly that.

For more information about Caroline Overingtonhttp://carolineoverington.com

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