The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

This novel which won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2008 is the third part of a trilogy. Probably needless to say it reads perfectly well if you havent already read the earlier two - which I havent yet but intend to. The novel is set in Melboune outer suburbia and around a City University in 1970. There are a small set of characters who each speaks for him/herself as he/she faces a change in a relatively ordinary life which is also reflected in the change in society as a whole which is happening apace at that time.
It is a quiet, philosophical novel played out with beautiful prose - it is also painterly , I think. You feel and see the ordinary suburban surroundings , the main characters and the people of the town very strongly.

The plot device is Progress in the suburb which is deemed to be 100 years old in 1970 and the Town luminaries celebration of the landmark occasion, however the book is about much more.

To me it seems to be about - the way people think as they go about their lives - it is philosophical and a book of the mind . By saying this I dont want to give the impression it is difficult - on the contrary but it does repay quiet , careful reading.

Time is an important theme in the novel - Time , present, past and what may come. Relationships is another important theme - dealt with sadly often, but in a particularly gentle way.

I will come back with some other thoughts but I do hope there are some comments forthcoming on this book because I think there is so much one can say about it.


John Kennedy said...

I was slow getting started on this, and my early progress was slow. But although I am still not finished, I have found that it has 'grown on me'. Nothing much happens, at least in the first 200 pages or so, but the writing is beautifully lucid, and one does develop an interest in the relatively small cast of interrelated characters, who are delineated in great detail but in a convincing and unpretentious manner.

I hope to post again, slightly past 28 February, when I have finished. (Perhaps I have the excuse that February is missing the last two or three days that should be there!)

Faye said...

Dear John,
That overview I can well understand. Glad you have enjoyed it thus far too. The plot as such is fairly simple but the lucidity which you mention has a power . It is in some ways a very scenic book - i.e. the scenes are so clear and yet I do think the book works most strongly on the level of thought processes.

The first title in the trilogy " The Art of the engine driver" is about Vic I understand . It was shortlisted for two prizes in France in 2005 and 2006 - some have said that Carroll is a Proustian type of writer and maybe that is why the French like him. He was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin twice befor winning it last year (along with many other awards in Australia and the Commonwealth). I am a grafted on fan now.

Re his characters - i like his approach too - I think the picture of Vic fairly early in The Time we have taken was what really got me in - an understated and totally non-condescending , warts and all, loving picture of a working class man , his dreams and his expectations. As soon as I can get a clearer go I am going to read The Engine Driver.

John Kennedy said...

I have got to the end, finally! As you suggest, Faye, the work is a source of quiet enjoyment, to be savoured (a bit like poetry, perhaps) rather than read compulsively. One for the connoisseur, perhaps.

Judging by the critical apparatus (including 'Discussion Questions') it has already suffered the fate of being set for students to read as part of a course of study and discuss in class or in essays. While not begruding Carroll the revenue this will bring him, I not sure it is a good choice, at least for younger readers. It is slow, subtle, and imbued with a sense of sadness more likely to appreciated by those to whom the years have brought maturity. The sort of thing likely to convince many HSC and uni students that literature is pretty boring. (I was amused that those studying the book are told to 'Read ... The novels of Marcel Proust'. I wonder what they will do in the afternoon.)

I thought the relationship between Michael and Madelaine was dealt with well, though mainly from Michael's viewpoint. Vic is another success. I felt the portrayal of Mrs Webster captured well the faint aristocratic aloofness and sense of being a people apart that still existed among upper midlde class Anglo-Saxon Australians in 1970, though of course Carroll does penetrate behind the facade. I am not sure I was convinced by the tenuous personal relatinghsip that develops between Mrs Webster and Rita, whose metamorphosis from cleaning lady and middld-aged suburbanite to museum designer seems to me a bit unconvincing.

For me this was an interesting read, but I would stop short of declaring myself a Carroll fan.

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