A luminous and evocative tale of ordinary suburban lives in the 1950s 17

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Book Cover The Art of the Engine DriverEvocative: That single word greatly describes Steven Carroll’s book, The Art Of The Engine Driver, because, for the older reader, it evokes long-held memories of Australian society sixty years ago. Contextual might be a better word for the younger reader.

We intrude on the lives of folk residing in a single street within a relatively new and still developing outer Melbourne suburb for just one evening. We meet the members of each household as they walk to an engagement party for a young woman who lives at the far end of their street. There is a secondary story that makes several appearances, one that links in some way with the main story; this all becomes evident as the book draws to its conclusion.

Vic and Rita, with their son, Michael, step out into the hot evening air. As they walk to the party, we meet the other residents and observe, through their eyes, the spectacle of a passing comet. There is no explanation for the references to the comet; the underlying sense is that human life is ephemeral.

Vic is an engine driver with a dream and a potentially serious health issue, one he keeps secret from everyone, including his railway employer. He and his family are the conduit through which everything connects.

Beautifully crafted, we are provided oft-subtle renderings, everyday details of human emotions that engage us in the lives and relationships of the characters who are the story. This is a book with an ability to socially engage the reader in how its people are drawn, simply but profoundly. Its language is sublime, and yet we find ourselves brought into their lives almost as if present.

The writing of a book such as The Art Of An Engine Driver requires a keen observer of human life, noting and understanding the strengths and the frailties of the human condition. Carroll achieves this with a combination of pathos, wit, humour and, where necessary, callous truth. He has an uncanny ability to make us believe in his people, albeit there are few among them we would ever truly like.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Steven Carroll, the first in a trilogy. Others titles are The Gift Of Speed and The Time We Have Taken. I will be seeking them out soon. I read The Art Of The Engine Driver overnight. It drew me in and I could literally not put it down. It is a long time since a book had that effect on me.

A final word: Involving.

The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll is available to purchase from Dymocks in various editions including paperback, audio and ebook.

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John Reid

  1. Going to my Grandma’s in Canterbury Melb. On arrival we’d walk around the back & a train would thunder by( she lived right beside line ) It was so exciting as we lived on a farm in Country Vic.

  2. Growing up in the 50s, life was so simple, we didn’t have much but what we did have we appreciated, I remember one xmas my Mum bought me a doll and my grandma knitted an outfit for it it was the best present i ever got, the kids of today have been spoilt and couldn’t live the way we did, I miss those times I still look back on them fondly

  3. Definitely a book to keep in mind. I grew up in suburban Adelaide in a housing trust home. I enjoyed my life as a young one. Mum and dad used to take us camping and we would go and visit my grandmother who lived on the Yorke Peninsula, about a hundred miles from Adelaide, where we would go crabbing and swimming. It was a very simple life but one I loved. Mum and dad used to play games with us, like shuttlecock and cards. It was a much nicer place to live in all those years ago.

  4. I agree with Beverly carol Ryan we could go to city from Oak Park walk to Sth Melb walk back to city for a drink not alcoholic walk to train back to Oak Park then walk home no hassles no fighting the world is going mad feel sorry for my grandchildren

  5. I grew up in Umina/Ettalong on the Central Coast of NSW, a long way from Central Victoria where we live now. It was a great place to grow up, playing in the streets, not many cars. We did not have a car until I was 9, we walked everywhere sometimes miles around the beaches with everything piled in the pram. Fishing, bush walking anything that got us all out of the house. Mum and Dad made everything, Mum our clothes, Dad a lot of wooden toys, even our sandals he made out of leather straps. He also mended a lot. I would not like to have raised my family there today, too much city for me. Give me the country any day.

  6. Grew up in East Africa. My folks sailed on Lake Victoria. We had hyenas, Kudu and buck in our garden. My dad drove a Jeep and our man servant sat at the back of the truck with a rifle for protection. We had snakes in our pool. I was a teenager when my family imigrated South to live. Life was never the same. My husbsnd & I imigrated to Aust in 1979. Life is good again.

  7. Lived at box hill (Melbourne) on holidays used to catch steam train at spencer street station to go to stawell to stay with relatives on various farms , loved those times .

  8. Grew up in Putney Sydney favourite things bush next door allowed to play in there all day long with other kids in street. Ryde pools again had to walk through dirt tracks and bush to get there many happy memories of growing up. No mobile phones parents had to trust that was where you were mind you you were to afraid to be somewhere else and I can never remember being frightened.

  9. i can vividly remember when i lived in broken hill the mining companies put on a picnic for their employees at penrose park 16 miles out of town at silverton we all crowded into a train that was charted for the trip ,that was when very few people had cars ,a great day out with handouts for the children ..

    1 REPLY
    • My Dad worked for city council and every xmas had a xmas tree for the families we always got a nice present and ice cream, lollies and watermelon those were the days

  10. Watching golf a couple of years ago from Melbourne & on each starting hole were 2 tram markers, just like the real thing & very like the one photographed. My partner decided he would like a Melbourne Tram miniature so I searched (none available at the Golf Club or in Australia) & eventually bought one through England, made in India & posted out to us in it’s original box!! He was delighted.

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