The entire novel is written in the first person from the protagonist’s perspective. We are never given her name. In fact, almost no names are revealed throughout the entire book. The mother is simply “mother”. The neighbor next door is referred to as the “fat-lady”. There is reference to her friend, “Sharon” but this is about the only name used.
The narrative takes the format of a list of anecdotes, and observations that the protagonist, who is a young girl, makes. The reader experiences these memories and observations from the young mind. Often there are situations that the young girl does not fully understand, and she makes her own assessment of the current situation she is in. The young protagonist is extremely inquisitive and curious, going into details about everything she experiences, finding reasons and meaning to everything her young eyes take in. A simple mundane normal task can become quite exciting when seen and explained from her perspective.
There is a character who the protagonist refers to as “Father man” who seems to be a stepfather who runs a car workshop, and this is where we connect with the title of the novel. The young protagonist likes to flip through mechanical manuals when she is alone in the workshop, enjoying the “exploded views” of the car’s engine and parts that reside under the bonnet. Many times, she will compare the workings of a car’s engine to the current topic she is thinking about. This is not the only thing she likes to do when she is alone. At night she sneaks out and drives the cars around.
There is a hint of darkness that surrounds the protagonist. A hint that is hard for the reader to pinpoint, just a general feeling that not all is right with this young girl. It continues through the novel and you get the feeling that a disaster is looming.
Throughout the narrative there are references that the stepfather is sexually abusing or molesting the protagonist. And they grow more obvious as the story progresses. There are also hints at domestic violence being forced on the mother. In one disturbing passage, the father, suddenly, almost on a whim, cuts off the girl’s ponytail.
This novel was a mixed bag for me, there are times where the format that the narrative takes works extremely well, often taking on a poetic style, and then there are times when the protagonist’s observations seem to just be ramblings dragging the reader away from the narrative instead of adding to it. One thing is for certain it is a very ambiguous novel, leaving parts open to interpretation for each individual reader.
Overall an enjoyable read, short, and the type of book that a rereading may reveal points missed and change opinion. I am still trying to understand the ending. 3.5 Stars!
Carrie Tiffany was born in West Yorkshire and grew up in Western Australia. She spent her early twenties working as a park ranger in Central Australia. Her first novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living (2005), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize, and won the Dobbie Award and the WA Premier's Award for fiction. Mateship with Birds (2011) was also shortlisted for many awards and won the inaugural Stella Prize and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. She lives and works in Melbourne.