Shark bait

If the previously reviewed The Hare With Amber Eyes was a history of family mediated through art and literature, Robert Drewe's family memoir The Shark Net is a very different beast. Drewe recalls his childhood spent in 1950's Perth in Western Australia, then one of the most remote cities in the world. The seemingly idyllic, if insular, world of suburban Perth was ripped apart in the late '50s / early '60s by a series of seemingly unrelated murders. Drewe knew one of the victims, a childhood friend; unbeknown to him at the time he also knew the murderer. Drewe would later become a journalist; his first major work was to report the trial of the murderer he knew; the serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, who was the last man to be executed in Western Australia.

This is a very unusual book, part childhood memoir, part true crime, part semi-fiction. It's often very funny, sometimes incredibly poignant. Drewe's father was the top Dunlop salesman in Western Australia, and was a rather remote figure very bound up in his work, while Drewe's mother struggled with the concept of being the perfect 1950's housewife. Drewe is adroit at portraying suburban life both as it appears to be, as embodied in so many American films of the '50s portraying the perfect wife and mother, and how it actually is below the surface - with all the little wrinkles of family life, and the bigger problems including mental illness, violence and murder.

He cleverly contrasts the extremes of the murderer, with the claustrophobic, hot house effect of living in an isolated community. It's compulsive reading, brilliantly written and very unsettling. Drewe shows how violence can affect an entire community, both those it touches directly and those who its shadow glides over. But this is not a grim read. In spite of the serious subject matter Drewe also celebrates the joys of community living, and the goodness of people. Dark, but often uplifting.

It also ticks another country off the map of the 666 challenge.


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