Despite the fact that not much happens in Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys so much is going on that you could say this book carries its weight in its undercarriage. First you must look and then look again while the carriage moves you with its astute language, its great character depictions and its spellbindingly good metaphors. It is a novel to read for its words alone, and yet, and yet, there’s so much more.
Opening an eye on a family’s arrival into a neighbourhood, it is the children who will uncover the intricacies of such a landing. The adults, on the other hand, are cushioned by experience and the lack of need to bend towards others.
Hartnett shows us what that is like. The children’s hopes and fears, their rising awareness of the world they’ve been born into and the adults at the helm of that world. Golden Boys is not so much about what parents do – although there is enough said about that in the text – as what they don’t do: their lack of action, their poor decisions, their bad behaviour.
Set in a time (mid-80’s in suburban Australia) when men forgave everything in each other and, if not forgave, then downplayed, and women were their husband’s working attachés, the ubiquitous nuclear family (some may posit not much has changed) was a frightening and unrelenting knot for children. For all the ways that adults ingratiated themselves or lauded over children, with nothing properly discussed, the children in Golden Boys navigate the perils and joys with a spirit not yet tarnished and utterly unique to each of them.
This book taught me about a child’s inner life and made me so aware of something I’ve always said to parents who have come to me in my professional capacity as a Family Therapist: Children hear and see everything that you do.