Shirley Barrett’s The Bus on Thursday captures the fictitious autobiographical blog of Eleanor – breast cancer survivor, unemployed primary school teacher, and seemingly forsaken friend, not necessarily in that order.
Still bearing the scars of a failed relationship and a mastectomy, Eleanor is presented with the opportunity to teach at a school at the foot of the Snowy Mountains, a school with eleven students in a miniscule town of 241 people. It seems like the perfect fresh start. Only problem? The previous teacher, Miss Barker – who seemed to be strangely open about her menstrual cycle – is missing. Not to mention, the town friar believes Eleanor needs an exorcism to be rid of her cancer-causing demon.
Eleanor’s existence is now plagued with odd characters ‘either mad or horrible’ or both. Complete with a darkly irresistible stranger and a harrowing bus, Eleanor begins to question her own sanity. Perhaps it’s these circumstances that cause Eleanor to indulge the ‘irrational part of (her) brain (which is most of it)’, leaving us simultaneously cringing, chuckling, and tearing through the pages in an anxious attempt to piece the mystery together. Eleanor’s world is decoupaged with slivers of suspense, love bites, and instability, then lacquered with a dark wit that provides comic relief for even the most heinous situation.
The Bus on Thursday is Barrett’s second novel. Its unsettling narrative is uniquely intriguing, written to be devoured from the edge of one’s seat as Barrett’s unlikely heroine teeters on the ridge of insanity – and one is never quite certain when a line has been irrevocably crossed. Simplistic writing style meets complex plot twists in this addictive read.
Like Eleanor’s signature sauvignon blanc, this read is best enjoyed on a sunny afternoon. It is by no means a bedtime story. Particularly, if you have a bus stop on your street…
Reviewed by Elizabeth Calder
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: October 2018