Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

Books that Rock: The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta (the ‘it’s about freakin’ time’ edition)

Melina Marchetta’s brilliant, heart-wrenching new novel takes up the story of the group of friends from her best-selling. much loved book Saving Francesca — only this time it’s five years later and Thomas Mackee is the one who needs saving.

Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

And in a year when everything’s broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.

I’m beginning to think that it’s the hardest to write about the books I adore, like The Piper’s Son, which is probably why I’ve been procrastinating writing this review. It’s like there aren’t strong enough words in existence to describe how incredibly wonderful this book is (My name isn’t  Melina Marchetta, so don’t expect me to be a genius with words). Nevertheless, I’m going to do my best to explain my love to you all, dear readers.

There is a good reason why Ms. Marchetta is one of my favorite authors. I read for characters and she creates characters like no other author I know. Tom and his family have had situations happen in their lives that no one in their right mind would envy (and I thought my family had gotten hit with the dysfunctional stick), yet to have the kind of friendships and the strong familial bond that they possess, I would take those situations in a heartbeat.* What we have here is a beautiful account of how a family is wrenched apart by grief and then brought back together once they finally start down that road to recovery. I won’t lie and say that it’s not at times a heartbreaking story and that you won’t shed a tear or two while reading (or maybe more, if you’re a weeper), but I promise it’s all worth it in the end, my friend.

Sassy, dark-haired guitar players with hearts of gold -- anyone else see the resemblance?

And then there’s Tom. Sigh. I think he may be one of my favorite Marchetta men  and goodness sakes does he ever have stiff competition (and no, it’s not because I picture him looking like Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons). Jonah Griggs, anyone? Tom is just so delightfully real and flawed (not to mention cheeky as all get out). There were times where he would do or say something that made me want to roll my eyes, smack the boy up the back of his head and ask him what on earth he was thinking, but I loved him so much that I wanted to give him a big ole hug and forgive him for all the wrong he’d ever done. It gives a reader so much satisfaction to see him finally start to turn his life around and find the confidence to make things right with his family and the girl whose heart he broke.

It’s funny, when I heard that Melina Marchetta was writing a sequel to one of her most popular books, I a) hoped it was Jellicoe Road and then b) hoped it continued with Frankie and Will’s story when I found out it was Saving Francesca. Thomas Finch Mackee never even crossed my mind, but I’m glad that Marchetta took a chance in writing his story, because it was a darn beautiful one.

And I’m glad that she decided to write the characters in their early twenties. Though it made for a more mature story than typical Marchetta fare (there are accounts of drinking and drug use, bouts of strong language, and brief sexual encounters), it did much to fill a very real void in the literary world. Seriously, how many books can you name where the main characters are twenty-somethings? Not too many, eh? Hopefully more authors will continue in this vein, so I don’t have to wade through all the books featuring high school angsty drama or those going through a mid-life crisis in order to find characters to whom I can relate at my present age (not that there is anything wrong with either of those kinds of stories — it’s just not the right one for me).


*Plus, it’s not like all they do is sit around moping and weeping. They do a lot of laughing, too. How could they not with two sassy-pants like Tom and Anabel and a shit-stirrer extraordinaire like Nanni Grace around?


And now on to the Books that Rock portion of this post, where I provide a soundtrack of sorts that describe events occurring in the chosen book (be warned that spoilers may occur in the song descriptions). If you haven’t yet read the book, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the music.
Holes by Passenger/Mike Rosenberg

This song, one of Mike’s newest creations, could be the theme song for this book. The chorus speaks of having holes in one’s life and heart, but carrying on nevertheless. Every single character in this book has a hole in their life and heart, whether it’s  from someone they loved who has died, someone who has left them, or they have done the leaving. At the beginning of the novel, we see that these characters are simply carrying on, but as the story progresses, they are able to make the necessary changes in their lives and reach out to those whom they have hurt in order to begin the process of healing.

Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons

I imagine most of you all have heard this song, seeing how Mumford & Sons have become the next big thing (you wouldn’t believe the trouble I had getting tickets to one of their gigs this past spring), but just in case you’ve been living with your head in the clouds, here’s a lovely video (I’m pretty sure I could have included about five more M&S songs in this soundtrack, but I refrained in order to keep this from becoming the never-ending post).

This is Tom’s song at the beginning of the novel, once he’s had his wake-up call (of sorts) and realizes what a mess he’s made of his life and  how much he’s hurt those who care about him the most.

London by Ben Howard

And this is Tom’s song now that (the psycho) Tara Finke is no longer a part of his life. Now that he’s no longer seeking oblivion in the form of recreational drugs, he’s become aware of how much various places around Sydney remind him of her, like the Union pub and the attic bedroom in his aunt Georgie’s house.

This is one of my favorite of Ben’s older songs (I’m glad I was able to download it before it got ganked from Amazon). The poetic imagery that he uses paints such a vivid picture of the loneliness he feels when his girl goes off to Paris and leaves him behind — it breaks my heart.

Promise by Ben Howard (with bonus The Wolves)

I swear, Music Monday is starting to turn into the Ben Howard and Passenger show, but I couldn’t resist putting up this song for Georgie and Sam. They have such an awkward relationship (or lack thereof) given what has happened and is happening in their lives, and I thought the line ‘Who am I, darling, to you?’ really captures the insecurity they both have about what they mean to the other person.

How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly

This was one of the many songs that Melina Marchetta mentioned right in the text of the book. Music played such an influential role  in Tom’s life, and this song in particular had significant meaning for his family, so I pretty much had to include it in this soundtrack. I can just imagine Joe drunkenly singing this song to Dom over the phone after he’s been thrown into jail for disorderly conduct — I’m sure I would have been cracking up along with the cops too, had I been there.

Honorable Mentions:
  • Lover’s Eyes by Mumford & Sons : This is a post-Tara song for Tom. I love it and I wanted to include it in the soundtrack, but I feel like Tom didn’t want to move on without Tara in his life and get over her — he wanted to find a way to be with her again. Do click through to watch the video, though — it was taken from their gig at Bonnaroo and it’s one of the loveliest renditions of this song that I’ve seen, barring the Glastonbury gig.
  • Sophia by Laura Marling : I see this song as Tara’s reaction to Tom once he begins emailing her, specifically when he asks about her Brazilian peacekeeper boyfriend.
  • Patient Love by Passenger

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