Author: Melina Marchetta
Series: Standalone, although comes with some spoilers for Saving Francesca
Read: December 2nd-4th
Publisher: Greenwill Books
Release Date: March 1st, 2010
In short: more of the perfect Marchetta treatment: a blend of snarky humour and mature, heartbreaking loss.
Mild spoilers for Saving Francesca below!
Goodreads: Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca—but five years have passed, and now it’s Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can’t forget. Shooting for oblivion, he’s hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper’s Son redefines what it means to go home again.
It’s been a long time since I read Saving Francesca, but I gave it a quick reread before getting into The Piper’s Son. That was definitely a good decision; the characters were fresh in my mind, and I was totally attached to the story. There are a couple of narrative choices that I questioned, but I really liked The Piper’s Son—not as much as Saving Francesca, but it was heartwarming nevertheless.
≫ THE PLOT:
Why can’t he just walk off the face of this world without Francesca turning up to hospitals, and Georgie living around the corner and Siobhan Sullivan’s father now having a tail on him?
Thomas Mackee was a snarky teenager, but five years have passed since then. Now his family has been irrevocably changed, and he’s pushed away all of his friends—Frankie, Justine, and Tara, the latter after they admit their feelings for each other. He’s lost touch with who he was and is neck-deep in alcohol and drugs, but his past has a way of coming back to him. Suddenly his old friends are everywhere, his family is trying to tie up their loose ends, and he can’t stop thinking about Tara. Could things be realigning again?
When people call Melina Marchetta’s books ‘unflinching’, they aren’t kidding. The Piper’s Son is no less of a fearless look at Tom’s difficult life. We know from Saving Francesca that he isn’t the most angelic person out there, and he can be a real…dirtbag. I love the way we reconnect with the same set of characters, but the five-year gap is acknowledged and dealt with—Frankie, Justine, and Tom formed a band in that time, and we probably missed some great band shenanigans. But be warned that The Piper’s Son isn’t just Tom’s story; it’s his whole family’s, which was one of my only qualms about it (and it’s also what most other people loved about it). It revolves so much around the Mackee family—not that that’s a bad thing, but with the added perspective of Georgie, Tom’s aunt, I felt like it took away a little from Tom’s story. My second issue was that there’s very little chronology here—loads of flashbacks, and that could get quite irritating at times. Just be prepared for both when you read the book!
≫ THE PROTAGONIST:
I can do oblivion, you know.
The primary difference between Frankie and Tom is that Frankie seemed almost unaware of her own depression and her harmful thoughts for a large chunk of her story; Tom is almost painfully aware of his own self-destructive nature. That makes him a very powerful narrator, and it got pretty heavy. All the same, it’s difficult not to root for Tom in his (many) moments of hilarity just as much as his (many) moments of jerkhood. We’ve all been there.
As for Georgie, Tom’s aunt, who’s also a narrator…I loved Georgie as a character, I really did. She’s definitely easier to sympathise with than Tom, whoops. She’s going through the struggle of her first pregnancy by a man she’s separated from—a man who cheated on her once. Her POV brings up all sorts of points about the complexities of family. I could appreciate all that, but at the same time—probably because I’m so attached to the Frankie gang—I wished the novel had centred more around Tom.
≫ THE OTHER CHARACTERS:
The return of the gang—plus some fresh faces—nearly made me weep. We see Will and Frankie first of all, and I don’t think I have grinned as much while reading as when I was reading the scenes they were in. Frankie, by the way, is involved in a very lucrative business with her grandmother, you’ll see what kind. We also, of course, get lovely Justine and the boy she’s pining for from afar—again. New to the scene are Ned and Mohsin, both of whom call Tom out on his generally awful behaviour and are also great characters on their own. Then, of course, there’s Tom’s massive family. I loved their dynamic, ranging from the hilarious to the adorable—Tom’s sister Anabel’s email ID is actually tomsister, and Tom’s is anabelsbrother. Naww. And last but certainly not least is Tara herself, in all her I-don’t-care, feminist glory. Revisiting these characters was amazing, and how I wish we’d had a chance to see what happened to them in those five years.
≫ THE ROMANCE:
Tara Finke doesn’t do gentle. Tara Finke does practical, or abrupt, or furious, or passionate. But the gentleness in her voice undoes him.
Most of Tara and Tom’s story is told in flashbacks, which can be jarring—and annoying! Tell me what happened already—but much of the book moves at the same irregular pace. Anyway, how can one not enjoy their adorable love-hate relationship, and the way it progresses to something more? It’s very, very slow, but it’s a punch to the gut when Marchetta wants it to be.
≫ TO SUMMARISE:
If you enjoyed Saving Francesca, you need to read this book. Just be prepared for some serious lack of chronology, and an introduction to every single Mackee or Finch ever.