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Thursday, November 26, 2015

'Clancy of the Undertow' by Christopher Currie

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

We’re sitting there with matching milkshakes, Sasha and me, and somehow, things aren’t going like I always thought they would. We’re face to face under 24-hour fluorescents with the thoroughly unromantic buzz of aircon in our ears and endless flabby wedges of seated trucker’s arsecrack as our only visual stimulus.

In a dead-end town like Barwen a girl has only got to be a little different to feel like a freak. And Clancy, a typical sixteen-year-old misfit with a moderately dysfunctional family, a genuine interest in Nature Club and a major crush on the local hot girl, is packing a capital F.

As the summer begins, Clancy’s dad is involved in a road smash that kills two local teenagers. While the family is dealing with the reaction of a hostile town, Clancy meets someone who could possibly—at last—become a friend. Not only that, the unattainable Sasha starts to show what may be a romantic interest.

In short, this is the summer when Clancy has to figure out who the hell she is.

‘Clancy of the Undertow’ is a new contemporary YA novel from Australian author, Christopher Currie.

So strange that on the day I set aside to write my review of ‘Clancy’, I was getting all sorts of ping-alerts about this YA author Scott Bergstrom who had, advertently or inadvertently (but either way: stupidly), dissed the entire YA readership by claiming that his self-published YA novel (which recently had film rights bought by Jerry Bruckheimer) was more “morally complicated” than anything else in YA. A hashtag has since started up, with a whole bunch of authors and readers calling out Bergstrom’s self-absorbed, White Knight bullshit (and Chuck Wendig probably has the best response so far).

But it was amusing to me, because here I was trying to write a review of this book by Christopher Currie … a book with a lesbian protagonist, growing up in a rural small town whose already dysfunctional life is thrown into chaos when her father is involved in an accident that kills two local teens and the family suddenly finds themselves local enemies No.1

No moral complexity here AT ALL.
Move along.

The phone’s off the hook because some reporter from Brisbane got our number and Titch answered when she called. Mum ripped the cord and she was still shaking half an hour later. Kept saying, ‘Vultures,’ over and over. A news van came up to the top of the driveway one afternoon, a satellite dish poking out conspicuously from its roof. I was up in my room and I saw it creep up, stay for a moment, then drive away. Dad sleeps most of the day, goes out to the shed late in the afternoon and stays there until late at night to listen to the cricket. Angus is out most of the time. Probably up in the mountains or out at the observatory, who knows. 
In the mornings I collect the paper and take it up to my room. Dad’s name is in there now, going from ‘a local man’ to ‘council worker Robert Underhill.’ They’re still not calling him a suspect, because they can’t, but it’s clear the town’s already made up its mind.

‘Clancy of the Undertow’ is a complex, slow unravelling … of a town, a girl and an investigation. There were parts that reminded me of Robert Drewe’s ‘The Shark Net’, and more than once I found myself quietly comparing Currie to Raymond Carver, particularly for his short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" (which the film ‘Jindabyne’ was based on).

Currie has written about his transition from an Adult author to a Young Adult one – and to some extent, I had this article of his in the back of my head while reading his book (not least because I loved this metaphor: “equivalent of Superman trying to write his memoirs with a Kryptonite pen”). He said he stumbled across his 15-year-old protagonist, and then didn’t stop writing once he found her … I was thinking about this because a plot like ‘Clancy’ has, about the death of two local teens and impact on the family of the accused local man, has such multi-faceted possibilities. But there’s real power and impact in 15-year-old Clancy to be the one telling this story.

Clancy has a crush on the local hot girl. Her family was already dysfunctional, long before her father became front-page local news and the eyes of the town turned on them … There’s a sense when reading Clancy’s turbulent year, that we’re witnessing a young woman being forged in flames here. The story certainly had lots of possibilities, but coming from Clancy’s first-person point of view heightens everything to a delicious, heart-sickening tension – that this huge and devastating event has happened right when Clancy’s in the middle of figuring herself and her world out, to suddenly have it all ripped away from her.

Morally complex YA, yo!

I’ve said Currie’s storytelling reminded me of Robert Drewe and Raymond Carver ... allow me to add one more; ‘Clancy of the Undertow’ also feels like it could be a Paul Kelly song – all Australian setting and moral questions, being told by a young woman stuck in the middle of her life. Currie may not have consciously set out to write a YA novel – but I’m glad he found 15-year-old Clancy, and I hope he comes back to this readership who will welcome any new words from him with open arms.



  1. I was already drawn to this book because of the brilliant title. Isn't it clever and evocative! But this sounds like a must-read. Really enjoyed the review.

    1. Can't wait to hear your thoughts!
      Thank you :)


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