Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Review: The Underwharf by Gaby Naher

I found a copy Naher's debut novel from buried amongst a pile of books at my local secondhand store. Something about the front cover, with its colouring that is as garish as it is dark and lack of capital letters anywhere, made it clear that this one was a relic from the mid-1990s a long-forgotten era in Australian publishing, where publishers tried to appeal to a younger market by making their books look a bit different and a bit more hardcore than what the adults were reading, drew me to the book. What the hell was this old thing? Would it be any good. And, frankly, it's kind of a shame that this book has such a strange cover and the unusual font used inside (Rotis Semi Serif,) is a bit distracting because the story itself is bloody brilliant.

The Underwarf switches between the past, present and future to tell the story of Sophia, daughter of Zelda--an ambitious publisher and single mother--and her quest to learn the identity of her father, a journey which eventually takes her to London, before a reunion in New York. Through the narrative of the past, we learn about Sophia's youth in Sydney, summers spent with her sparkly grandmother Nella and best friend Sam, her leaving school and the events that help to shape both Sophia and Sam as people and their friendships with Jake. The present takes through London, as a promiscuous and emotionally damaged Sophia fails to find her father but succeeds in finding someone much more important--herself--before returning to Sydney to make amends with Zelda and Sam. The final (and shortest of the narratives,) takes Sophia through the lead up to her eventual meeting with her father.

Author Gaby Naher (who was in her twenties when this book was published, and has since gone on release a memoir titled The Truth About My Fathers, and who now works as a literary agent,) does a brilliant job of demonstrating how Sophia is shaped by the events of her past and her relationships with Nella, Zelda and Sam. Much of Sophia's promiscuity is not graphic, though frightening at times and always very fitting for the story. It is also wonderful to watch her grow as a character--from an immature and demanding girl, to a capable young woman. 

This one was a real surprise treat for me and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Recommended.