What makes a classic?

Novels are generally deemed “classic” if it’s a weighty (albeit outdated) tome. There’s fine line to tread between what is defined as cheesy and classic. Cheesy novels are drenched in unfashionable references not yet far enough removed to be yearned for. Yet classics resonate like a ringing of a bell.

As a writer, won’t it just be safer and wiser to avoid contemporary events all together? Just zip lock your novel with timeless references to avoid becoming an irrelevant pile of paper.  For debut author, Steve Totlz, there is no safe option. Toltz grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck, pulls them into a hotted up car and drives full pelt into modern Australia.

However it was 2008 when the novel hit the shelves with great aplomb, would it still be “devastatingly funny” when read today?

The short answer is – yes. It’s hilarious and may result in aspiration pneumonia if read in conjunction with a cup of tea.

Essentially it’s a story about a Father raising his son. While the Father takes his role as an educator very seriously, his advice and childrearing techniques aren’t quite run of the mill. With the family motto “there’s safety in looking crazy”. These bizarre thoughts flow forth from the “My Father the philosopher – he couldn’t even give a simple haircut without reflecting on it”.

The father and son relationship is more reminiscent of “Dad and Dave” than the Mr. Brady and Greg. Full of inappropriate jokes and naff notions. “Most of my life I never worked out whether to pity, ignore, adore, judge or murder my Father.” The characters are so well fleshed out they have everything but a pulse.

Between all the bombastic, batty thoughts and tangents, there are some real gems of insight “there seems to be no passion for life, only for lifestyle.” Yet for all the navel gazing and bar stool philosophizing, the story has an unrelenting pace. Starting off in small town NSW, before jet setting to Sydney, Paris and eventually Thailand.

The novel is brimming with ideas, pulsating with energy, without feeling like we’re furrowing through the dregs of every last creative writing task Toltz has ever attempted.

In fact Toltz is a tidy writer – reining the plot with more skill than a cowboy born and breed in Wyomy, when it could have easily veered off the cliff into a sea of crashing absurdity (much like this metaphor of Toltz being a cowboy cum pirate).

Themes of mainstream media consumption, immigration, family values, the flawed education system are seamlessly integrated into the solid story. Perhaps it’s this fearlessness to represent Australian society warts and all made the novel an international and local success, as it tackles issues which are so big that they won’t slip onto the backburner anytime soon.

Toltz captures contemporary Australia without resorting to cheap sucker-punch of stereotypes of a homogenous Home and Away society of surfer bums lounging at the local corner store.

Fiona Murphy

About the author
Fiona Murphy has a terrible singing voice but thankfully is an obsessive reader, so is more likely to have her nose stuck in a book. When not reading she is documenting her flights of fancy and embarrassingly frequent follies at http://penpaperplay.blogspot.com/

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Fiona Murphy

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