David, a freelance journalist and writer, lives on Inishmore, a harsh island off the coast of Ireland. A place where people come ‘for the wild beauty and the five thousand years of history, the Celtic legends and the burial sites of saints. They’re coming for the drink and the sex and the craic.’ David has come to live there in order to help his divorced sister, Orla, run a guesthouse.
David is forty-three years old. With many unfulfilling relationships behind him, he is now yearning for something more. Not satisfied with being a much-loved uncle to his three nephews, he wants a child of his own. ‘He is full of hope. And this is what he doesn’t talk about: he wants to be a father, now, not later. He doesn’t want to waste one more minute of his life.’ David is conscious of aging – he has a back injury incurred on the same night he realised his desire to have a child – but thinks there is still time. He imagines a phantom child running through the house.
When Ettie, a seventeen year old Australian girl, has a serious accident after leaving David’s house, her mother, Tania, comes into his life. As a tentative love unfolds between them, David dares to imagine a long-desired future – a baby in his bed. But Tania starts to question his motives and, even to the reader, they are not totally clear. Small events begin to erode her trust.
The author has said that she started this novel as a story about three sisters grappling with infertility, but became bored with it, realising that the male view on this subject was one that interested her more. The desire of single, heterosexual men to have children is not one that is much explored in our culture.
Sweet Old World is Deborah Robertson’s second novel. Her first, Careless, was short listed for the Miles Franklin in 1998 and she has also published a book of short stories, Proudflesh.
I read this book in one flu-bound day in bed and shed a few tears at the end. Like all good fiction, Sweet Old World drew me deep into another reality. Beautifully written, complex and subtle it explores a little known emotional realm. A lovely, lyrical, heartfelt story about loss, longing and hope.
This is my 11th review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
I will be at the ARRA mega book signing event on the Gold Coast this Friday (17th). Do say hello if you’re there!