Brutal and Beautiful

Plum by Brendan Cowell

If a book can be both brutal and beautiful then Plum by Brendan Cowell is that book. I picked it up at the suggestion of a friend and have been reading it in snippets over a couple of really busy weeks. I have been working 10 hour days in the sun so most nights I have taken it to bed with me around 8.30 and fallen asleep just 15 minutes later with the tablet having fallen on the floor. I was about to give up altogether and wait for autumn – or holidays, until today when I was able to grab an indulgent 3 hours, curl up on the couch in our bottom lounge and just read…

It literally left me reeling – both laughing and in tears – which is a no small accomplishment. A few months back on our trip I read Shuggie Bain, another fantastic piece of writing – also brutal in it’s portrayal of young life in Glasgow, but lI felt it lacked any genuine redemptive edge. Plum manages to achieve a redemptive angle that without wilting or getting sappy.

At face value it’s the story of an ex NRL star who leaves the game and at the age of 49 develops a brain injury as a result of the head knocks. The book opens with 4 very rough and raw Australian men living their self centred lives and doing as they please even if it leaves a wake of destruction. Peter Lum (Plum) is a local (Cronulla) rugby legend who is held in awe by those of his generation (he is 49), but less so by the new generation who have no clue who he is. His son worships him and wants to be like him – wants to win his affection and his attention. But history repeats and Pete fails to really support him, just as happened with his own father. It’s a story of generational failings and of the culture that stops men from getting past their bravado to honest interactions.

It’s a story that reflects on ‘mateship’ when it’s not all it seems to be, on loyalty, even on the place of alcohol in our lives. We see the destruction it creates in so many relationships and the belief that ‘I could quit if I wanted to.’ But at it’s best it’s a reflection of redemptive relationships and the courage it takes to enter these. I could write so much more but it would spoil the story for those who will read it.

On one hand it’s a very blokey story with lots of sport talk, drinking, sex and male banter, but on the other it’s an incisive reflection on the deep sadness many men carry at their inability to actually love and be loved – to express honest emotion. Some books lilt to a finish, but this one punched hard.

Maybe it was just me but this was a cracker and one for men to read and talk about.