Updated: Jun 13, 2021
The two protagonists of this novel meet in unusual circumstances. Elizabeth has, I suppose you would call it a fainting spell, and Trevor catches her and invites her into his shop to recuperate. Elizabeth is a book editor, in fact she was inspecting Trevor’s window display, as she often does, when she felt faint.
Inside the shop their conversation is anything but flowing. Assumptions are made and the two seem to rub each other the wrong way. Elisabeth seems to find herself contradicting everything Trevor says regardless of topic. She leaves quickly saying she will come back that afternoon, and Trevor, strangely considering the way she has spoken to him, finds himself looking forward to it, but she does not return.
Elizabeth used to be a full-time publishing editor but now in later life has cut back to part-time and works from home. She travels weekly to see her Mum and is surprised when her Mum asks her to help “arrange a dignified end” with Dr Nitschke, when the time comes. Working part-time now gives Elizabeth time to think, to dwell, to ponder, and she finds she cannot get her mother’s euthanasia request out of her head.
Elizabeth feeling a change in her life is needed decides to do two things, join the local choir and take in a lodger.
Trevor also felt he needed a change in his life, so he left his government job and with the money he inherited from his father’s estate, a father who disappeared and was declared dead after thirty years, set up a little bookshop. Trevor loves books, always has. He is an introvert, and happy in his own company. When his accountant asks him why he quit his job as a public servant with a firm salary, Trevor answers, “It was change or die.”
Trevor is still in a failed marriage with Diana, estranged, yet still living under the same roof. Diana wants him to move out and when one day Elizabeth returns to his shop and asks if she can place an advertisement in his window about a room to rent, it feels like fate has stepped in and played the serendipity card.
This novel, in a nutshell is about these two characters. Both Trevor and Elizabeth just living their lives. It takes their meeting and eventual living arrangements to perhaps bring realisation to them both that they may be existing rather than living. Going through the paces, but not stopping to smell the roses. Both do not feel fulfilled, but it takes their friendship to blossom for them to see this, and perhaps just how much they may need each other even platonically.
Both characters grew up missing a vital parent figure. Trevor physically lost his father who disappeared, while Elizabeth spiritually lost her mother to the Rajneesh orange sex cult. The loss of these figures in an integral part of their lives cannot be discounted.
Trevor’s true passion is painting, and he has a talent for it, so he decides to return to painting and give it another try. Another try? Yes, Salom gives the reader very little to go on initially, giving the reader information on their backgrounds piecemeal. What was Trevor’s job? What happened to his father? How did he get the limp? Limp? Yes he has a limp. All these questions assail the reader right from the start, but Salom holds the answers back. The book is divided into three parts and the reader is still missing vital information in this third and final part. However, it all comes together beautifully.
There is a definite dark comic edge to the narrative and some wicked characters that will leave a smile on your face. Characters like the creepy madman who wants Trevor to order a copy of Sin City, the DVD. He manages to make you laugh, while still maintaining this creepy persona.
Or Elizabeth’s lovely neighbour who tears down her fence, throws all the pickets and rubbish on her side of the fence and simply expects a happy resolution between the two of them in working out the cost of a new fence. Charming!
This is an extremely well written novel whose narrative and strength lies with the two main characters and their lives, problems, and the healing power of a growing friendship.
Philip Salom is a contemporary Australian poet and novelist whose poetry books have attracted widespread acclaim. He has published eighteen books - fourteen collections of poetry and four novels - notable for their originality and expansiveness and for surprising differences from title to title. His poetry has won major awards in Australia and the UK.
Here is a link to Female.com.au with a wonderful interview with Philip talking about "The Returns". - https://www.female.com.au/the-returns-book.htm