RHUBARB by Craig Silvey, Book Review: Strikingly original

Rhubarb, Craig Silvey’s superbly original and inventive debut novel, exquisitely melds joy and dry humour with trauma and sadness. Read my full review.

Rhubarb Book Synopsis

Rhubarb - Craig Silvey - Book Cover (girl sitting on carpet and cello)

Meet Eleanor Rigby: tiny, blind and left behind.

Led by her zealous, overprotective guide dog, Warren, she courses constantly through the places she knows. Tired, mired and sequestered from the world, Eleanor can’t shirk the feeling she’s going nowhere slowly.

Until, of course, she recognises something in the sound of Ewan Dempsey, reclusive and compulsive maker and player of cellos, who impels in Eleanor a rare moment of caprice…

Praise for Craig Silvey’s debut

‘… the novel has the charm of early work such as Gustave Flaubert’s Novembre and Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans.’ – The Weekend Australian

‘Written with wry humour and great depth of perception, this moving and often hilarious novel is a must-read.’ – Melbourne Weekly

(Fremantle Press, 2008)

Genre: Literature, Drama, Romance

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As with many debut novels, it is evident this story had percolated in Craig Silvey’s mind for some time before putting pen to paper. It is very ambitious. So much so, that at times it’s like he’s thought of too may ideas and clever linkages to fit them all in one novel – that being the only criticism I can make of a wonderful debut.

Rhubarb is one of the most original novels I have read.

It is hard to explain the beauty of this novel without giving away the storyline, so forgive me for my apparent opaqueness. You’ll see what I mean when you take the journey for yourself.

Rhubarb is full of real characters – flawed individuals. Silvey deftly peels back the layers of the protagonists, Eleanor and Ewan, and a wonderful quirky ensemble cast, like one peels an onion. Slowly but surely he reveals the characters pasts and what motivates them. Silvey takes the reader on a ride, seeing the world from the mind of each of the characters along with the vantage point of an all-seeing spectator. In this way, Silvey draws out the difference between the character’s perception of themselves and what others see.

This novel goes into territory I did not expect it to tread – dark and very sad places. But Silvey does so in a very artful and stylistic way. He weaves into the story clever link backs and wordplays that I found charming and personable. There is a real musicality about the sections of stream of consciousness prose that add to the compelling tension.

The key to the success of Rhubarb is the dry humour and levity Craig Silvey has so carefully melded with the sad storylines.

Many of the light-hearted moments are brought about when the reader is invited into the mind of Warren the guide dog, who holds a unique viewpoint of the world in which he lives.

Warren negotiates a sea of knees and shins and shoes. Narrowly avoids an imminent collision with a fast approaching pram. The saved toddler displays its gratitude by tugging hard at his ear. Warren quells a snappish growl, and resumes the dodging of self-absorbed meteors. (Of course, if he received the Respect he truly deserved, he wouldn’t have to; he’d be cutting swathes through these people.) Instead he stops and starts and stops and waits, made all the harder by guiding a sponge with legs.

I was thoroughly impressed by Rhubarb and look forward to reading more from Craig Silvey in the future.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5;  The Writing 5 / 5 — Overall 4.75

Get your copy of Craig Silvey’s Rhubarb from:

Booktopia AU Book Depository Amazon
OR listen to the audiobook FREE with Audible’s Trial (check eligibility)

Update: We have also had the pleasure of listening to Silvey’s novella The Amber Amulet  in audio.

Warren the guide dog’s viewpoint proved so popular that a spin-off children’s book The World According to Warren was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Crichton Award, 2008.

Source: CraigSilvey.com

More Rhubarb reviews

Rhubarb won Craig Silvey one of the coveted spots on The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists list in 2005.

“His story is rich and multi-layered and speaks directly to the reader. He weaves symbolism into the fabric of the tale and his characters, though tragic, seem somehow real. … A resonant read.” — Sally Murphy, Aussie Reviews

“There was a bit too much symbolism and use of metaphors for my liking. And it just didn’t have the same flavour as Jasper Jones.” – SanchWrites

About the Author, Craig Silvey

Australian Author Craig Silvey

Craig Silvey grew up on an orchard in the south of Western Australia. First published in 2004, Rhubarb won him a Best Young Australian Novelist Award by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2005. His second novel, Jasper Jones, was released in 2010 and was shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin Literary Award.