Review of “The Piper’s Son” by Melina Marchetta

This book about love, guilt, and forgiveness in the contexts of family and friendship is so good that it’s hard for me not to feel overcome with the emotion that arises from reading a wonderful book. It pulls you into the world of the story and as you find out more about each character, you can’t help but become more attached to each, until at the end, you feel bereft when that final page is reached. How sad it will be not to “hear from” these characters anymore, who have become so real to me. How wonderful to find an author who makes one feel so bereft.

Australian cover on the left; U.S. cover on the right

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Tom Mackee, age 21, and his aunt Georgie, age 42.

Complicated plot summary ahead! Feel free to skip to the Discussion, for which you don’t need a knowledge of the plot!

Tom is the son of Dominic Finch Mackee, known as “the pied piper” because others – particularly his siblings – have always copied whatever he did. Dom’s sister Georgie is his twin, and is now pregnant by her ex-husband Sam, who has a lovely, shy six-year old son Callum by another woman (which contributed to the breakup of Georgie and Sam). Dom’s younger brother Joe was one of the fifty some people killed on the subway in London in July 2005 when Islamic suicide bombers blew up trains across the city. His body was never recovered, and no one in this close, contentious but loving family has ever been able to reach closure. Over 40 years earlier, the father of Dominic and Georgie was declared missing in Vietnam, and his body was never recovered either. Although the twins never knew any other dad besides their stepfather Bill, they have never wanted to accept Bill – it might jinx the possibility that their dad, Thomas Finch, could one day come home.

Joe’s death led to a host of complications in the family, from Georgie and Sam getting back together, to Dom falling deep into alcoholism and leaving his family, to Tom’s mother and sister moving to Brisbane. Tom has had his own problems, including dropping out of the university, hanging out either drunk or stoned with losers the whole year, and blowing off all of his former friends (characters from the book Saving Francesca with whom he previously had close bonds). One of them, Tara, he was even in love with.

All these dysfunctions come home to roost when Tom is evicted and moves in with Georgie; Dom comes back, sober, and also moves in with Georgie; and Georgie copes with the growing discomfort and emotional volatility of her pregnancy, and her strained relations with Sam and Callum.

Discussion:

This is a totally character-driven novel, with dialogue that seems astonishingly authentic and with character growth that pushes its way through pain in a way that makes you want to hug every character in the book. And what love this family has, in spite of everything and in spite of the hurt they dole out to one another! For example, this is a memory Tom has of him and his father when he was small:

“‘I was shaking like crazy and I remember my father took my hand and asked me if I was scared. But I lied and told him I wasn’t and he just looked at me and said, ‘Well, I am, so you’re going to have to hold my hand tight.’”

And Tom, so believably awkward with Tara when face-to-face with her, is so much more romantic in his thoughts. When he finds out she was at the same place he was many years ago:

“Maybe she’d always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.”

The Piper’s Son is a follow-up or companion volume to Saving Francesca, which I reviewed earlier. It takes place five years later, and it isn’t necessary to have read the first to enjoy this one. But by reading it first, you will know more about the friends who love Tom like family, and grant him the same kind of space, and criticism, and acceptance that loving families do with one another.

Although marketed as a YA book, like other books by Marchetta, I feel it is more accurately described as a crossover book; indeed, Tom is 21, and the other main character, Tom’s Aunt Georgie, is 42. It could be said that Tom “grows up” in this book, but it’s certainly not in the way that would happen were he fifteen.

I included both the U.S. cover (on the right) and the Australian cover (on the left). The Australian cover seems much more germane to me.

Evaluation: This is a lovely, lovely book. The family dynamics and dialogue brought Tana French to mind for me a bit, but of course French adds murder and mystery to her books. Here, we just have a family with too many members seeking oblivion, and the story of how they fight their way back to redemption, through time, patience, and above all, love.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published in the U.S. by Candlewick Press, 2011. First published by Viking/Penguin Books (Australia), 2010

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14 Responses to Review of “The Piper’s Son” by Melina Marchetta

  1. JuneA** says:

    Complicated plot indeed! I haven’t read this author yet, I’ll have to pick one up!

  2. KateB says:

    I loved Saving Francesca and I can’t wait to read this book. Tom is a character that I was fascinated with and I really enjoyed reading your review.

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    I generally prefer plot driven novels but you’ve made this book sound so good I’m adding it to my wishlist.

  4. Sandy says:

    Based on how much I am LOOOOVVVVVING Jellicoe Road, you know I’m going to have to do all of these. She is an amazing writer.

  5. zibilee says:

    Though I haven’t seen this book around, you make quite a case for it in this review! I love that it touched you so deeply and that it kept you enthralled and in love with the characters. I do love me some character driven novels, so this seems one that I should try to track down, in addition to the first. Great review today!

  6. Beth F says:

    Well then, I guess I’ll have to start with the first one.

  7. This looks great! I like finding those books that make me feel bereft when I’m done reading them, and that quote about the father holding her hand was so sweet.

  8. Well that’s two for my wish list then. Character-driven and multiple points of view get me every time.

  9. bookingmama says:

    Don’t you just love it when a book can evoke such strong emotions in a reader? That’s what this is all about!

  10. Jenners says:

    You do tend to bond with characters … I imagine that you must buy big boxes of tissues at a wholesale club.

  11. I’m so following in your footsteps and reading all of her books.

  12. Richard says:

    Since the dialogue feels so authentic, I guess there’s no talk of “moon babs” here, eh, Jill? 😀 Anyway, glad you found a book you enjoyed so much that you were actually happy to feel “bereft” at the end.

  13. Jenny says:

    I’m discovering the problem with having an e-reader is that when I read the blogs, I check out like ten new books straight away and put them on my Nook, and then I have too many books and can’t read them all before they’re due. But I’m extra excited for this one — I just read Saving Francesca earlier this month and had no idea there was a companion novel. Melina Marchetta’s so reliably good at emotional moments in her books, I love her.

  14. Staci@LifeintheThumb says:

    This one would appeal to my youngest son as he branches out beyond YA books!!!

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