Told in the first person, Tom Rowland recounts his time at the seminary, St Finbar’s, with Frankie. Tom entered the seminary at the age of 16, of his own choice and much against his parents’. It was the 1950s and the idea of homosexual relationships was rarely discussed, let alone condoned. Tom’s parents were not like this, teaching Tom instead that it was the love that counts. “Being able to love another person: in all your life, that’s the most important thing.” (p. 27) Tom’s godparents, Denny and Joseph, lived together in Tom’s hometown and endured homophobia.
Frankie entered the seminary after having sex with a local girl in his small home town. His father beat him and his family shamed him. Wrecked with guilt he made a promise to give his life to Christ, entering St Finbar’s a short time after Tom.Their rooms were next to each other’s, and during the great silence at night they often talked through the thin wall between them. Frankie was full of life and wonder and Tom fell in love with him, gradually. The only person Tom confides this to is his cousin Miri, with whom he has a special relationship, sharing his secrets throughout his life. It is with Miri that Tom realises what happened to Frankie when he disappeared one night from the seminary. Tom had suspected the head prefect, Etta, was responsible in some way. The answer is slowly unfolded during the narrative as Tom recalls life in the seminary and those he lived and shared this life with.
This is a beautifully crafted novel. Judith Clarke’s writing has a way of positioning the reader as Tom, seeing everything from his viewpoint, feeling his anguish and his pain. The setting is tangible with the sea and the outback becoming real in the reader’s mind. I could close my eyes and see the seminary on the hill, or the dusty town of Currawong where Tom accepted his final post. I re-read many sections, making this a satisfyingly slow read I did not want to end.
“Everyone liked Frankie—I think it was the brightness in him, the way his long, rather bony face would light up when something pleased him. The brightness was in his voice, too—people turned their heads when they heard it, it made you think of light.” (p. 48-49)
The only reservation I have about this book is that by being promoted as a young adult book, many adult readers will miss out. This is a book for all young adults and adults. I will be promoting this to many friends who do not often read YA literature. This is a true literary masterpiece for all, and possibly one of my favourite reads this year.
Many thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending me this book for review.