Montebello by Robert Drewe


What a treat this audiobook memoir by Robert Drewe is! I loved his previous memoir, The Shark Net and especially his novel The Drowner. In this one published in 2012 he ranges around his life recounting moments that are enlightening, or nostalgic, or revelatory. Interspersed throughout is his description of a visit to the Montebello Islands with scientists who were reintroducing some species to those islands off the coast of Western Australia. In the 1950s they were a testing site for British nuclear weapons and are now a park.  Visitors are advised to spend only one hour per day at the test sites and not to take any metal objects they find with them. That was a chilling aspect of the book.

Here are a few of the bits from this book I want to remember:

As a kid he read The Saturday Evening Post with great interest, fascinated by the ads, but he devoted special attention to the cartoons:

I detected four main cartoon categories:  heaven, cannibal cooking pots, exhausted husbands coming home from work, and desert islands. The heaven cartoons also split into two subcategories; Saint Peter frowning at the pearly gates, sitting at a receptionist’s desk with copious files and a quill pen weighing up some new candidates’ unlikely chance of entry, and men sitting on clouds, wisecracking about their past lives. God never put in an appearance. Presumably he was in residence a few clouds away beyond the angels with halos and harps and too serious for the Post to joke about.

He goes on to say the category most interesting to him was  desert island cartoons and he, as a person who loves islands, had suggestions for improvements. I found his description of those cartoons poignant as I recall the presence of The Saturday Evening Post in my own young life.

Here’s a great snark moment:  He says writers’ festivals have become popular even in small towns everywhere and can be summed up in this question to him from a woman in the audience:  “My book club has been studying the works of the wonderful Jane Austen and it seems to me that in the history of world literature there has never been a writer who understood the human condition as exquisitely and sensitively as Jane Austen. I recently borrowed from the library your book on Perth serial killers and I thought that it must concern you that your writing in no way resembles the work of Jane Austen. Do you intend to rectify this?”

Ok, he isn’t Jane Austen, but he is a wonderful writer.

Robert Drewe, Montebello, Penguin, 2012 (I listened to the audiobook).

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