Monday, April 11, 2005

Familiar settings

I was feeling sick and tired and a bit down earlier in the week, so I picked up Trish Morey's The Italian Boss's Secret Child from K-Mart on the way home and treated myself to a couple of hours curl-up-on-the-sofa-and-just-read time.

About two-thirds of the way through the book, one of the characters 'left the highway and crossed the train lines before pulling alongside the kerb, opposite a battered brick veneer house in a post-war building boom suburb.' As I read those words, I experienced an unexpected but pleasant sort-of thrill. I knew what that house looked like. I knew what that suburb looked like. I actually had a vivid, visual, mental picture, rather than just a general sense, because I spent the first six years of my life in a street in a post-war suburb of Melbourne (where Trish's book is set) with houses just like that.

This experience does not happen often to me. There's not a whole lot of books set in Melbourne - and fewer set in Canberra, where I spent the next 19 years of my life. And as for the small town near where I now live... well, I did come across a fleeting reference to it once in a novel.

I was a voracious reader as a child, and still read rather more than the average person, but the first time I read a book where I'd actually been to the place it was set in was when I read The Day of the Triffids at age 21, having just returned from a trip to the UK. It was quite a bizarre experience for me, because I could picture in my mind Oxford Street and Marble Arch and Hyde Park as the story unfolded.

I enjoy these rare little thrills of the familiar. Maybe New Yorkers and Parisians and Londoners don't experience it because every second book is set in territory they know well. Maybe I just notice it more than others might because sense of place has always been important to me.

Of course, since my stories are set in rural and outback areas in my part of the country, somewhat away from the usual overseas tourist track, there won't be a whole lot of readers who get that thrill of recognition. But maybe one or two will - and I hope it seems right to them :-)


Kate R said...

you were in the top ten of course . . hey do you know Anne Gracie? I love her books.

Bron said...

I met Anne at the Canberra conf 2 years ago, and she's on a list I'm on. She's wonderful as a person - and I love her books, too, although I've not read all of them. She has a new one coming out soon ;-)