The Private Diary of Egan (Bush) Tucker
Ill. Vida Kelly
351 pages, paperback
ISBN 978 1 77543 360 6
“You’re Moana’s boy…You know that the police – and your father – have been looking for you for years.”
Brian Falkner’s novels are always unpredictable and exciting. Shooting Stars is his best work so far. It takes a classic theme that dates back to Swift and Voltaire – an idealistic innocent thrust into a society that is less than innocent – then gives it a modern New Zealand setting. The result is intriguing, exciting and amusing.
We first meet Egan as a Candide figure, raised by his mother, Moana, in the isolation of a miner’s cottage deep in the Coromandel Peninsula bush. His diary records his daily life in the bush, along with his aspirations and enthusiasms. He not only enjoys a range of authors but also imitates their style of writing with amusing effect.
Egan is a lively and cheerful narrator. Woven like a thread through his account is Moana’s Code, a set of 30 ethical guidelines she has inculcated into Egan. “#7 Do not allow other people to get hurt…All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Egan hasn’t read Edmund Burke but he does realise that Moana has drawn widely for her list. “I think she borrowed this from someone else.”
While out hunting the wild pig that has damaged their vegetable garden, Egan encounters a hunter, J.T. Hunter, who saves his life. J.T. and Egan develop a friendship. “He took my hand and lifted it up and down a few times. I think it is called shaking hands, I have read about this.” This friendship will prove vital to both of them later in the story.
A tragic event leaves Egan alone and forces him to come out of the bush earlier than Moana had planned. His quest for information about his origins takes him into the grim underbelly of Auckland. A gang of street kids promptly rob him but ,after several bruising encounters, Egan finds that his bush skills enable him not only to survive but to achieve a level of understanding with Reggie, Mohawk, Junior and little Allan. The depiction of street life is grim and convincing.
Then Egan’s father discovers him and he is swept into a world of press interviews, TV fame and Facebook celebrity. Life in the Coatesville mansion of the famous Ray Tucker, well-known former rugby star, might sound like a happy ending but, all through Egan’s diary, there have been reminders of his father’s violent, controlling personality. The conclusion sees the moral conflict between father and son becoming a physical confrontation.
Various documents included with Egan’s diary entries help the reader to draw their own conclusions about the events which follow and create their own conclusion to the story.
This is an excellent novel, bursting with vitality, deeply moving and full of ideas. The characters are all interesting and their reaction to Egan’s philosophy is both amusing and thought-provoking. Vida Kelly’s illustrations show another facet of Egan’s personality.
Shooting Stars is my pick for the Best Young Adult Novel of the year.
Trevor Agnew17 Nov 2016