3 out of 4 stars
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Goodbye, Marlene: A Tale of Unrequited Love is a fiction book by John Devaney. The book has the feel of a non-fiction book, and I read the book thinking it was the author relating events that transpired in his childhood. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that it is in fact a fiction book. In that regard, I believe it has been very well written; it is very believable.
Albert Langley and his family move from England to Australia in the year 1963. Leaving the city of Liverpool was a daunting undertaking; as put by Albert himself, “Australia was much further away in those days. It was halfway around the endless, slowly turning world.” Albert soon falls in love with his new Australian home. He appreciates the warm hues of yellow and brown offered by the scorched Australian landscape – unique in its beauty. Goodbye, Marlene: A Tale of Unrequited Love tells of young Albert’s years in Australia, transitioning from careless childhood to puberty.
I mentioned earlier that the book is believable. It has a real-life quality to it. And so, the characters, as seen from Albert’s eyes, are convincing. An excellent example of the depth of the characters is Mother Christopher, the head mistress of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Primary School. Albert deciphers her character and reveals to us her greatest fear – insanity. Mother Christopher has let this fear shape her entire life. To her, madness is the result of non-conformity and of disobedience. In a desperate bid to preserve her sanity, she kills off every ounce of her individuality and independence. It is a desperate need. She must conform. She must obey. In the end, years of desires and appetites denied, turn her into a very disappointed being.
Although I thought the character development was brilliant, I felt there were just too many characters. It was hard to keep track of them all and remember who is who. Albert’s narration moved from the brainless school bully, to his temperamental friend, to his friend’s OCD mother, to his new-born sister and so forth. What made it worse is that the book occasionally moved back and forth between time periods (though generally it moved forward chronologically), making it even harder to keep track of the vast array of characters.
I believe a male audience would be in the best position to enjoy this book. They could relate to Albert’s childhood antics and mischief. They would enjoy his telling of victories and losses in various sports activities. It could bring up memories of their own childhood crushes and unrequited loves. On the other hand, Christians might shy away from this book as Albert proudly shares his strong agnostic views throughout the book.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. Despite its realism, and certain portions which I found highly entertaining, as a whole, it was not exciting nor engrossing. As a result, it took me a while to complete. However, I would readily recommend it to readers who enjoy life-like books.
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