A harsh light on 1960s Australia

THE tension in Marcella Polain’s Driving into the Sun is more palpable than some crime novels, and I found myself hunched over the pages in a cold sweat.

The award-winning North Perth author and academic is happy to hear of my unease.

“It was the sense I was hoping to create – a sense of foreboding that difficult things continue to happen,” she says.

The novel deals with a migrant family after the sudden death of the man of the house.

Orla, on the brink of puberty, struggles to make sense of the loss of her father, and her grieving mother struggles to make ends meet and provide financially and emotionally for Orla and her four-year-old sister Deebee.

Polain brings a powerful insight into the mind of a young girl dealing with devastating loss. Staccato sentences and unconventional grammar create a dramatic, poetic resonance.

The all-female family faces uncertainty amid the prejudices of chauvinistic Australia in 1968.

Back then women were unable to get a housing loan without a man as guarantor, and a single mother’s pension was nothing more than a gleam in Gough Whitlam’s eye.

Men were paid considerably more than women doing the same job, rape was something to make crude jokes about, and if your boss patted your bum or worse, making a fuss would get you fired.

Polain was a single mum “for a while”, and says society didn’t consider she had a ‘real’ family.

“I wanted to tease that out,” she says.

Driving into the Sun also debunks the rose-tinted version of the 1960s, that things were better and women could safely walk the streets.

“That’s not how I remember it,” says Polain, who recalls WA serial killer Eric Cook.

Driving in the Sun, published by Fremantle Press, is in bookshops now.


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