Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, by Martine Murray

This edition published by Allen & Unwin, 2002

Caught sight of this book while browsing at the bookstore; read a few pages and loved the distinctive narrative voice and the Melbourne inner-suburb vibe. All the positive reviews I glanced at kept mentioning how cute it was, and I certainly found it cute, which is largely down to the central character, Cedar B Hartley, and her quite charming way of thinking about things. But in general I couldn’t really fault this book. It is utterly engaging – a simple story about an almost-teen who is in self-devised ‘training’ to be an acrobat. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But Cedar is at that beautiful age where she knows a whole lot, or is learning for the first time – but at the same time doesn’t really know anything at all – and this creates such a lovely intelligent naivety that sets the whole tone of the book.
The only parts I didn’t quite feel completely charmed by were the explanation at the end about her father – it was perhaps a bit clunky and tacked on, when it probably could have been worked in a little more seamlessly throughout. Also maybe just a couple of times I thought I was being pushed a little too much with ‘Greenie’ and left-wing politics, albeit in a very watered down way. Still, it was enough for me to notice.
But otherwise this book was just adorable. This book is largely set on a street in Brunswick, which for those who don’t know, is an inner suburb of Melbourne, in Victoria. It is always such a unique reading experience, when you are reading stories set in places you know. I loved this about the book and think Murray captured the neighbourhood scene perfectly. The minor characters, and there are quite a lot, add so much to the story, and no matter how much page time they get, they rarely feel flat.
I loved Cedar – her voice, her understanding of the world, her courage and humour. Such a great little character: precocious without being annoying, and for all her sass, a little girl who considers others and is genuinely kind. I enjoyed very much reading the scenes with her and her mother, and also the relationship she has with her missing brother Barnaby: really just their little family unit as a whole. Very touching without being sappy.
What I really enjoyed was that though a lot of the kids in the book/neighbourhood know each other from school, we get to see how they interact beyond the school gate, which is actually quite unusual and adds a whole new dimension to the relationships. The way Cedar describes what goes on at the weekends and after school is right on, and there is something quite whimsical about it all.
And the relationship between Cedar and Kite is just perfect – I dog-eared a lot of pages where the author just got it so right, what happens between them. Some of my favourite relationships in books come from this not-kid/not-quite teen/very late primary school age, because there is such a lovely innocence about it all, and all the cuteness without the angst. Great characters, great relationship. Great book.

1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to read this book forever. thank you for reminding me of it. jx