The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll

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The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This novel is a snapshot of Australian suburban life in the 1950s. In amongst the bitter-sweet personal tales - the train and all it stands for: from the glamour of steam to the efficiency of diesel, is central as it's used creatively as a metaphor in describing these fictional suburban lives.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Windmill Books
ISBN: 978-0099537274

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Carroll has chosen a bygone era in the 1950s and also a bygone but much treasured mode of transport, whether it's Australia or the UK. Immediately I'm drawn in to the story. Both the title and book's front cover are arresting and original. The novel centres on one evening in this suburban neighbourhood when all its residents are invited to a celebration party. Carroll see-saws back and forth as he shares the individual lives with us. It is an engaging style.

The suburb in this novel is brand new. It's devoid of any vegetation and the inhabitants, on the whole, don't feel part of the landscape and don't really feel part of a community. The reader is introduced to a clutch of varied characters who are now all living cheek-by-jowl in virtual scrub-land. Perhaps, not unsurprisingly, most of these blue-collar workers are unhappy with life, with their lot. Again and again, Carroll tells us that his characters are ordinary. But what is ordinary? He makes them all come alive on the page. The main characters are a small family unit of three. Their stories are told in detail throughout, weaving with their neighbour's stories. And at the very beginning of the story we are told about Vic, the father and husband and of his absolute love for his job. He's an engine driver. He may be hopeless in other areas of his life but driving his beloved trains he's in heaven.

Carroll gives us a moving piece of an unfortunate accident which happened to Vic in his past. It has a catastrophic effect on his personal life. But his love affair with the train seems to roll along regardless. The chapters are short and punchy. They are all given folksy, innocent titles but be warned; behind that home-spun language lies strong emotions and dysfunctional families. We get a strong sense of the sheer size and geography of Australia. No quaint branch lines here. You really do sense the importance of the drivers of these trains as they cross hundreds of miles, whether it's freight or passenger.

Carroll's style includes lots of descriptive paragraphs with a little dialogue (there's not a great deal) here and there. This style gives a sense of rather dull, sterile, suburban lives, where the days can be long, especially for the stay-at-home wives and mothers. At times, this sense of pent-up frustration and wasted lives is almost palpable, due to Carroll's writing. Residents of other countries have somehow come to settle in this nondescript suburb in the back of beyond and here Carroll touches on the Ten Pound Poms. Other European nationals fare less well in this novel. Throughout, there is a depressing sense of lives unfulfilled, of some of the locals not reaching their full potential.

Carroll also gives the reader some interesting facts and figures about The Art Of The Engine Driver amongst other things. Fascinating stuff. There's also a strong sense of the 1950s era, there's the odd Australian slang word thrown in for good measure and the overall feeling of not belonging, of missing out somehow. This novel is also about tradition and also having to move with the times. A gentle, thought-provoking novel.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals hen you might also enjoy Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

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Buy The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll at


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