Book Review: The Lucky Galah
Author: Tracy Sorensen
Lucky is a self-described “fat pet galah” living with her owner, Lizzie, in the small town of Port Badminton in Western Australia. She enjoys tearing up paperback books, eating biscuits with sweet tea, and cruising the streets on Lizzie’s bony shoulder.
But Lucky hasn’t always had it so good. As a young galah she was taken from the wild and sold as a pet, spending many years in a small backyard cage where she observed the comings and goings of her owners, the Kelly family, and their neighbours.
Fortunately, Lucky has a special talent that helps keep her entertained—she can pick up transmissions from the radio telescope dish sitting just outside town.
As the dish plays a pivotal role in relaying messages between Apollo 11 and Houston, Texas, during the 1969 moon landing, so too it offers Lucky some fascinating insights into the lives of the people surrounding her.
I wanted to love this book. Tracy Sorensen’s writing is both sparse and evocative, the details keenly observed and exquisitely drawn.
However, it’s kind of like flipping through a photo album—each photo is related, but there’s no cohesive narrative thread linking them together.
There are plenty of plotlines. The primary plot involves radar technician Evan Johnson, who’s living the 1960s white male Australian dream, completely oblivious to the fact that his vibrant wife, Linda, is slowly dying inside as she performs her stifling role as the perfect housewife.
We learn early on in the story (no spoilers here!) that Evan plunges to his death from a cliff just a few years after moving to Port Badminton, and the book details the events leading up to this tragedy.
Unfortunately, I never developed any empathy for Evan, so his eventual demise felt seriously anti-climactic. I simply didn’t care when he fell/jumped/whatever off a cliff.
The characters I did develop some small measure of empathy for—Evan’s wife Linda, and his two daughters, Jo and Stella—were simply written out of the story after his death, so the reader never learns what becomes of them.
Meanwhile, the book jumps around from the past to the present, taking in the moon landing, Mrs Kelly’s lifelong career as the town seamstress, Mr Kelly’s current-day infatuation with a politician who bears a striking resemblance to Pauline Hanson, and Lizzie’s life as an Indigenous woman and Port Badminton’s ‘premier bird fancier’.
I’m still not 100% sure what this book is about.
Is it about the moon landing? (Not really.)
Is it about privilege, as one reviewer suggests? (Maybe.)
Is it about racism and politics? (Not sure.)
Is it a commentary on the ethics of taking wild animals to be raised as pets? (I don’t think so, but I found this aspect of the book genuinely distressing.)
What I am 100% sure of is that I can’t get behind the concept of the radar dish outside town recording the thoughts and actions of every resident in Port Badminton, and that Lucky (along with ever other galah in the area) can pick up these transmissions.
I can suspend disbelief enough to allow for an avian narrator—just—but the whole dish thing is a bridge too far. I think the author needed to contrive a way for Lucky to know what the human characters were up to (and why), and that’s the best she could come up with.
I also disliked the way the ending was written. The author offers us a glimpse of Evan Johnson’s final thoughts, but unless you’re (literally) a rocket scientist, you probably won’t understand them. Even when I Googled an explanation (which I resented having to do), I still felt like I’d missed something—I just couldn’t see the point of it.
The verdict? There’s a lot going on in this book, and also not much going on at all. (Much like some small towns in Australia. Maybe that’s the point. Depressing.)
Read it if you enjoy perfectly-rendered snapshots of life in remote Australia. If you’re looking for a page-turner with a conventional plot, this probably isn’t for you.
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