It does not take Kylie Ladd very long to enter the fray and set the scene of Last Summer. Rory Buchanan, a man who “has it all: looks, talent, charisma…” is, by page six and at the age of 39, dead. An aortic aneurysm, a ruptured artery wall of the heart, had killed a man who, as the highly respected captain of the Yarra Yarra Cricket Club second team, was the centre of everything.
It was Rory who organised the fixtures and the training sessions. It was Rory who initiated the junior team and coached the youngest members of the club (including his own three sons). It was Rory who organised the New Year’s Eve party, the Easter holiday break, the barbeques, the pool parties. So his sudden death leaves an enormous hole in the lives of a close-knit group of family and friends.
Told from the perspective of nine of these mourners, Last Summer is a novel of contemporary suburban Australia.
Not dissimilar in structure to the earlier (and considerably better) The Slap by Christos Tsiolakis, Last Summer weaves its narrative of time and place around the central event. Rory may be gone, but wife Colleen, sister Kelly, friends and their wives along with a whole cohort of children are the ones left to deal with their grief and loss.
Last Summer is centred around the cricket club: friendship, support, child-minding, social life, a sense of belonging. But it all starts to unravel as many of the adults come to realise that without Rory, there is little common ground between them.
Joe, Rory’s brother-in-law, tries to keep the momentum and enthusiasm going. But he’s too proud to acknowledge his grief and too hot-headed to take on the captaincy. He has his own demons to deal with, not helped by Kelly’s sexual distance since the funeral.
Part of Kelly’s problem is that she was incredibly close to her brother. Finding it difficult to cope with his death, she cannot understand why Colleen appears to be in so much control.
And so it goes on. Separate characters and their stories eventually merge, bonded by children and the cricket. But as James decides to give up the game to spend more time with his family (which also involves withdrawing son Will from the junior team), so Nick rediscovers his old passion for it.
Pure soap opera
Last Summer is pure soap opera, a novel set in Melbourne and Neighbours country. And like soap opera, it draws you in, wanting to know the conclusions of the storylines. Will James and his young wife Anita get back together? Does Laine have an affair with Sam? And, overriding all, the question of how each and every one of them copes with their grief and loss.
But sadly, Last Summer is, ultimately, not particularly good soap opera: or, at least, not very satisfying. Good soaps can run for years, with character development fundamental to its success. Last Summer fails to provide sufficiently interesting characters. And, with several club members central to the story alongside most of their children being boys at the same club, without a glossary it can get very confusing as to who is who.