Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Local Wildlife by Robert Drewe

The Local Wildlife
Robert Drewe
Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton
9781926428482

From the Blurb

Welcome to the Northern Rivers, where the 'local wildlife' can refer to more than just the exotic native fauna.  After a decade spent in this picturesque corner of Australia, home of chocolate-coated women, pythons in the ceiling, online Russian brides, deadly paralysis ticks, and the mysterious Mullumbimby Monster, Robert Drewe wiped the green zinc cream from his face and set down some of his unusual wildlife experiences that the far North and New South Wales- home of the world's greatest variety of ants- had to offer.

Pre- Review

I'd like to start this review with a little story.

A few weeks ago, I was working in the bookstore, and I'd been downstairs for something.  As I came up the stairs, I noticed that a man was admiring our staff picks stand.  He had his back to me, but I could tell that he was holding in his hands a copy of The Local Wildlife.

"Fantastic choice!" I said.  "I'm a big Robert Drewe fan.  So pleased to see he has another new book out."

The gentleman turned around, and his female companion looked amused.

"This is Robert Drewe."

As soon as he looked at me, I knew it was true.  I turned a violent, beetroot red.

So.  That was how I tried to sell Robert Drewe a copy of his own book!  Meeting Mr Drewe was quite possibly the highlight of my year so far.  Last year, whilst doing Honours, I gave a lecture on The Shark Net, and I relied on his scholarly work quite heavily in my research.  I was pleased to be able to tell him how much his work meant to me, and he was kind enough to sign a copy of the new book for me!


Review

The Local Wildlife is a hybrid publication, part memoir and part collection of short stories.  While lacking the traditional narrative arc, this book is lively, entertaining, and carries a connecting thread throughout its contributions.  It meditates on the idea of celebrating the strange and wonderful people that we meet in our everyday lives, and embracing the idea that we may be strange and wonderful ourselves.  There is also a sense that stories and people like these could happen nowhere else in the world.

The book is witty and sharp in its observations.  It is funny without being cruel, and accepting of all different ways of life.  I was particularly taken by the recurring descriptions of the farmer who orders a mail-order bride from Russia because his wife has run off with her yoga teacher- a woman.  The descriptions of the potential mail-order brides... including one who has clearly had a falling out with her translator... are sure to elicit a reaction something akin to 'the truth really is stranger than fiction.'  Drewe is also able to laugh at himself, recounting a day when he rubbed green zinc cream all over himself and was then unable to return to a normal colour, his pool cleaner excusing the strangeness by explaining 'He's a writer."

If you loved Drewe's earlier work and you're looking for a great book to relax with at sunset (on your balcony, maybe with a chardonnay) then this is it.

Five stars.

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