If reading this book is anything to go by, Tom Hungerford was a larrikin with a heart of gold. The Western Australian literary imagination (and the topic of my thesis) owes much to this man. This three collection set of short stories follows three periods in Hungerford's life; his boyhood in the semi-rural paradise of South Perth, his coming of age at war and his growing political cynicism in the time after. He wrote it all down, chronicled it if you will, I guess to make sense of it all.
It is a best loved book.
So why couldn't I love it?
I read the first section, Stories from Suburban Road with enough interest. Hungerford's descriptions of familiar places and feelings hit home for me, and I found myself delighting in the self realisations that reading the work brought. In one story, 'Professor Murdoch and the Old White Road', I was excited to learn that the setting was in my own suburb! And I laughed as Hungerford wrote of himself as a young writer "What I'd actually wanted was not so much advice as just someone to tell me I was as good as I thought I was- like most writers." This stripped back humour is a feature of the entire work. The adult writer makes good natured fun of himself.
But the other two collections, Knockabout with a Slouch Hat and Red Rover all Over smell of historical documents. I found myself losing interest, not only in the subject matter but in the insights. One moment, Hungerford is talking about working with Charles Court, the next he is in Russia all in one story! The lack of narrative structure made the stories somewhat hard to follow and the tendency to use telling language rather than showing language affected the flow. This book took me weeks to get through, simply through lack of interest. I see the influence of Hungerford's journalistic background increasing throughout the pages of Straightshooter. Had I read the novel as a historical text or as non fiction, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, while I knew that what I was reading was autobiography, I expected more literary flair from Hungerford, who has a reputation as being the state's beloved word-smith.
That being said, Stories from Suburban Road if you can get it on it's own is a charming read, and full of insightful descriptions of Perth in the earlier part of the last century. That collection I give four out of five "pieces" of bread with jam and butter.
Straightshooter as a collection I give two magpies.