September 2005

Arts & Letters

‘Hoi Polloi’ by Craig Sherborne

By Luke Davies

I first became aware of Craig Sherborne when I read his beautifully honed but laconic poems in Best Australian Poems 2003. Here was a fine craftsman with a diamond eye, writing with great grace of the racing life, of family, of childhood. An entire world was evoked. The poem “Brett’s Mum”, about an adolescent’s angst-ridden gropings with a school-friend’s mother, a 40-year-old gone a little to seed, set against a backdrop of Melbourne Cup Day, was a bolt of poetic compression, a stunning tale of youth, age and loss.

It’s lovely to see the episode revisited – refracted from different angles, and this time in prose – in Sherborne’s delightful memoir of a trans-Tasman childhood in a pub-owning, racing-obsessed and somewhat insular single-child family, made up of our hypersensitive narrator and the seriously flawed parents he nicknames ‘Heels’ and ‘Winks’. The book is structured as a series of vignettes in which a single event illuminates the way a young Sherborne tries to get the measure of both the hothouse world of family and the only slightly more bewildering world “out there”, full of menace and fascination. There’s a sense in which each vignette operates as a kind of cinema jump cut; the book moves forward at a cracking pace.

But, just as in Sherborne’s poetry, something complex and multi-layered emerges from the lean concision of his prose. Hoi Polloi is a loving but unflinching portrayal of life in a provincial town and of the shared desire to move out, literally speaking, and up, figuratively speaking. Mostly it’s just plain funny, a real page-turner. Sherborne captures cohesively and vibrantly the ever-shifting world seen through an ever-growing child’s eyes.

Luke Davies

Luke Davies is a novelist, screenplay writer and poet. He is the author of Candy, God of Speed, Totem (the winner of the Age Book of the Year in 2004) and Interferon Psalms (winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2012). 

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