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The First Week by Margaret Merrilees - Book Review

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by Haydn Radford (subscribe)
Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events. www.weekendnotes.com/profile/121822
Published January 9th 2014
A shocking incident with far reaching consequences
The First Week
The First Week by Margaret Merrilees

In her literary debut novel The First Week, Margaret Merrilees has written a gripping story that comes out of her own experiences, which explores when something shocking happens and remains with you for the rest of your life. Marian is a widow and an ordinary country farmer, struggling to survive on her farm in the dry farming country around the Stirling Ranges in the south of Western Australia. Her youngest son, Charlie, living in the city, does something terrible and her whole world is completely emotionally disrupted as she struggles to make sense of it.

The story is set in the time frame of the first week as Marian explores the themes of guilt and blame and tries to find answers to the questions that plague her. Marian in a state of shock, struggles to seek answers just as many of us might do under the same circumstances. She begins to blame herself for the actions of Charlie, because the terrible deed must be somebody's fault. She wrestles with questions, wanting to know what it is she has done wrong? What is happening? Why has it happened? She questions her and her late husband's role as parents, whether they are to blame in some way, either by implication or association.

The story revolves around Marian's journey from the country to the city and back again as she confronts the tragedy and the outcomes resulting from Charlie's actions. At the same time, Merrilees teases out different aspects of guilt and blame as she explores what damage White Australia has done to our environment and our original inhabitants. As she considers racism and various problems, she highlights another aspect of guilt and blame showing how successive government policies don't know what to do to make it better.

Although the different themes run seemingly parallel, the environment and political issues become more important in the story, leaving Charlie a more distant matter and an unresolved problem. I was left wanting to know more about why Charlie did this heinous crime. I have mixed feelings regarding Marian's lack of pursuing further Charlie's actions. When reflecting back over the story, I suppose it could be argued it is all about Marion's struggle with coming to terms during the first week with what's happened.

I found Marian to be genuine in her responses and behaviour when dealing with her other son Brian and his family. As a flawed character, Marian is easy to identify with. She revealed in her interactions, whether it was with the police, the lawyer, the psychologist or Charlie's housemates and acquaintances, her inability to be able of deal with certain situations. Some readers may find her frustrating as she seemingly struggles to cope, but I found her quite believable, as she was clearly inexperienced with the law and criminal matters. It was rather refreshing to have a character that doesn't possess all the answers to every situation, as many TV and film characters would have us believe is possible.

Merrilees writes in a clear, believable and thought provoking style. Her writing is concise and her every word clearly counts with a sense of moving the narrative forward. Her influence as a poet are assuredly evident with her use of strong imagery.

I feel this book would be ideal for Readers' Groups and students 15 years plus and is ideal for generating strong and energetic discussions.

In 2012, The First Week won the SA Festival Award for an Unpublished Manuscript at Adelaide's Writers' Week. Margaret Merrilees is the author of the online serial Adelaide Days. Her essays, which combine fiction, history and social commentary, have appeared in Meanjin, Island, Wet Ink and Griffith Review.

The First Week is published by Wakefield Press in 2013.
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Why? This absorbing, thought provoking and honest debut novel, will challenge your social conscience and arouse lively debate among its readers
Phone: Wakefield Press: 8362 8800
Where: Available at most book resellers
Cost: Check Wakefield Press Christmas Book Fair for special book sale. For further details check these pages.
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