This is another novel that I bought in the bookstore in Wellington I told you about in my last post. No short stories this time, but a haunting novel that left me a bit unsettled. The lady at Unity Books promised me a sinister coming-of-age story and a book that one can’t put aside. With that she was right after all.
David Ballantynes novel was first published in 1968 but is reckoned to be New Zealand’s great unread novel. Thirty years out of print followed. Since its republishing in 2012, more people had the opportunity to discover its power and I’m happy that I also got this opportunity. The opening already reveals some important facts:
“There was an old man who lived on the edge of the world and he had a horse called Sydney Bridge Upside Down. He was a scar-faced old man and his horse was a slow-moving bag of bones, and I start with this man and his horse because they were there for all the terrible happenings up the coast that summer, always somewhere around.”
It is all about 13-year-old Harry, his brother Cal and their father and how they spend their summer while their mother is away in the city. There are picknicks with friends, trips and forbidden adventures at ‘the works’, the shut down meat works of their town, Calliope Bay. The town is only inhabited by five families and does not exist on any map, but it is supposedly located somewhere on the east coast of the North Island. They get a visit from Harry’s cousin Caroline from the city and laugh about their shy neighbour Susann. And they talk a lot about Sam Phelps, the old man whose horse Sydney Bridge Upside Down entitles the book. This is more or less the amount of information I had when I decided to buy the novel. When I started to read it, the word sinister was spinning around in my head and it remained there until the last page.
Before leaving for the city, Harry’s mother made some bottles of fresh-brewed ginger beer for their boys. It’s their favourite drink. And since my visit to New Zealand, it’s one of my new favourites as well. Now you’ll have to excuse me: I know there are some recipes for brewing ginger beer at home but I was not brave enough to try yet. Still, I found a resource for ginger beer in Germany and would like you to know it as well. Spicy Ginger is available in many stores already and resembles the NZ ginger beer very much (the best brand is Bundaberg).
David Ballantyne: Sydney Bridge Upside Down