Books & Literature

Book Review: I Had Such Friends, by Meg Gatland-Veness

Hamish is a passenger in life, unable to do much more than watch or walk away. His world is quiet and reflective until he is pulled into the complicated lives of the people left behind after the death of Charlie Parker.

Set in a rural Australian town, I Had Such Friends explores isolation, friendship and growing up through the eyes of Hamish Day, son of a cabbage farmer. The novel speaks to both adult and young adult readers by centring around young adults whilst touching upon a number of adult themes.

I Had Such Friends is well written, at times beautifully written with interesting prose such as: “everyone had petered out of the room and casually draped themselves over the school grounds like washing on a line.”

The author invites the reader into Hamish’s quiet, reflective world immediately. Quickly we learn Hamish is one of life’s passengers; driving little in the plot line, at times frustratingly unable to do much more than watch on or walk away. Whilst his voice is refreshingly honest, Hamish is a confusing protagonist who isn’t particularly likeable but who provides a unique point of view, with an unmistakably Australian feel.

The novel explores Hamish’s at times relentlessly bleak reality – which is only occasionally punctuated by a lighter or more humorous moment. This serves the author’s purpose to highlight the isolation and depression felt by Hamish; a realistic depiction of a struggling adolescent’s experience in a small, conservative town.

Themes of mental health, identity and masculinity are also explored throughout the novel. Again, the refreshingly Australian viewpoint allows the reader to consider these themes from a less explored perspective. Other characters do seem to play to a stereotype, such as Martin “the geek” or Annie, “the prettiest girl in school.” Although the author does attempt to further develop these characters, it feels rushed, and most remain one-dimensional.

I Had Such Friends is a thought-provoking novel that, although developing quite slowly, eventually provides many unexpected twists and a surprisingly emotive finale.

Reviewed by Andrea Brunt

Rating out of 10:  7

Distributed by: Pantera Press
Released: August 2018
RRP: $19.99

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