‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ is a departure from literary fiction for Paddy O’Reilly, who has previously written a novel and a short story collection. Hence she is writing as P.A., rather than Paddy.
The book is the story of Loretta Boskovic, who lives in Gunapan, a dusty town in north-west Victoria. Loretta describes herself as an ‘old scrag standing with her hands on her hips, pursing her thin lips, squinting into the sun. You could make a statue of that. It would look like half the women in this town.’
Gunapan is full of single mothers. As Loretta says; ‘It’s been so long for most of the single mothers in this town we’ve forgotten what it was that husbands do to make us mothers in the first place.’ Loretta fantasises about leaving her children in an orphanage and riding off into the sunset with a man on a Harley. The highlight of her year is the annual K-mart underwear sale in nearby Halstead. This is a finely judged affair as ‘the elastic only lasts ten to eleven months, which makes these last few weeks before the sale pretty dicey.’
‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ reads a little like a TV series, there are episodes rather than plot. The prodigal son returns after doing time in jail, the local councillor is a dodgy operator, a refugee family from ‘Bosnia Herzegobble’ appears, creating conflict in the community.
There are also a host of charming, idiosyncratic characters. Loretta’s closest friend is Norm, who runs the local junkyard. The new mechanic, Merv Bull, a single and passably attractive man is flooded by business as women desert the old eighty year old mechanic in search of a ‘tune up’. Loretta’s two kids and her family in Melbourne add to the drama. One of Loretta’s former babysitters returns to the town to set up business as a witch.
This is my sixth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’ve got a feeling I said I’d only do six, but what the hell, I’m going on!
A woman with strong sense of injustice, Loretta tries to rally the town behind her to save the school, which is slated for closure. This leads to one of the funniest scenes in the book, when the Minister for Education comes to town. Treated to a butchering demonstration, he is left shocked and ‘festooned with a morsel of raw steak glued to his upper lip.’
I enjoyed the Australian character and light-hearted appeal of this book. If you liked ‘The Castle’ you’ll love Loretta.