Friday, April 27, 2018

The Making of Martin Sparrow, by Peter Cochrane

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Historian Peter Cochrane's first full length novel makes for an impressive debut.

Ex-convict Martin Sparrow has had the good fortune to be granted a plot of land. It's a first rung on the ladder to self improvement. But when the terrible flood of 1806 strikes, it destroys his crops. This can only mean more backbreaking work and debt. He already owes Alister Mackie, the chief constable of the Hawkesberry river, a considerable sum. The idea of years of more hard work and debt is unbearable.

Is there a way out? Martin could join the many before him who have “bolted”, tried to make it to the other side of the mountains where myth has it that a lush, Eden like place exists, populated with sympathetic fellows and beautiful, available women. The punishment for bolting is often death by hanging, but Martin is too morally weak to stay on the farm and put in the hard work. He lies to himself, believing such a place exists and that it is possible to reach. When he does bolt, he unwittingly leaves behind a trail of destruction.

This is historian Peter Cochrane’s first major work of fiction, following his 2013 novella, Governor Bligh and the Short Man). It depicts an early Australia that is a dry, unforgiving hell on earth, a Hobbesian nightmare world. With its cast of disturbing characters, most notably the chillingly evil Griffin Pinney, Cochrane creates a story that is sometimes darkly comic, but often frightening, violent and mad.

Written in an elegant, muscular prose, Martin Sparrow describes an Australia we've never seen before. An impressive debut and sure to garner a lot of attention.

The Making of Martin Sparrow, by Peter Cochrane. Published by Viking. ISBN: 9780670074068  RRP: $32.99

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