Book Review: Melina Marchetta’s The Place on Dalhousie makes you appreciate those boys & girls next door

Some people read books to escape their lives. For other readers, they want to consume a story that mirrors their own. Author, Melina Marchetta certainly fits into the latter camp. Her latest novel – the third in her Inner West trilogy, set in the suburbs of Sydney – is a close examination of the issues that are relevant to everyday people.

Most readers will be familiar with Marchetta’s work thanks to her best-selling novel, Looking for Alibrandi. While her current book also features some Italian-Australians, this one has more in common with her Young Adult texts, Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. This is because Marchetta has reprised some characters here. Readers may be familiar with these characters from when Marchetta first presented them as teenagers; so it’s fascinating to see them now as adults with grown-up problems.

Rosie Gennaro is nursing a broken heart when she arrives in Queensland while the town is in the midst of a flood. She has a short fling with a laconic gentleman she dubs “SES Jesus”. His real name is Jimmy Hailler and the two share a nice chemistry. But, circumstances intervene and after the disaster the pair do not see each other again for some time.

Several years later, Rosie has returned to Sydney with her baby boy, Toto. She returns to her late father’s house – the eponymous one referred to in the title. This is a place that Seb Gennaro painstakingly built for twenty years with his second wife, Martha. Rosie misses her biological mother who passed away from cancer when Rosie was a girl. No surprises that the step-daughter and stepmother have a fractious relationship.

Both Rosie and Martha are strong and fierce characters. They have a tense stand-off about the house. Each believes that they are entitled to live there as the sole owner. This premise enables Marchetta to examine complex, human relationships and everyday nuances in detail. Marchetta is an excellent storyteller and makes this minutiae fascinating.

Marchetta is accomplished at crafting dramatic and emotional stories, which include sharp and witty one-liners. It is this approach that has resonated with readers over the years. The author also should be applauded for dealing with topics with such a brutal honesty, rather than a sugar-coated view.

This novel has a large cast of characters. These supporting ones rally around the major protagonists. This may not appeal to all readers, who may crave a simpler story. Others might appreciate the distinction between these character’s messy personalities and their relationships.

The Place on Dalhousie is a novel that handles a lot of different topics with a deft touch. There are: secrets, forging connections, grief, loss, friendship, and identity, and Marchetta packs a lot into this easy, breezy read. The Place on Dalhousie ultimately makes you want to pop around to your neighbours for a tea and a biscuit, so that you can all bond over your deepest and darkest.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Melina Marchetta’s The Place on Dalhousie is available now through Penguin Books Australia

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Natalie Salvo

My writing portfolio can be found at: https://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com/