By Michael SalaFictionText Publishing

The Restorer

After a year apart, Maryanne returns to her husband, Roy, bringing their eight-year-old son Daniel and his teenage sister Freya with her. The family move from Sydney to Newcastle, where Roy has bought a derelict house on the coast. As Roy painstakingly patches the holes in the floorboards and plasters over cracks in the walls, Maryanne believes, for a while, that they can rebuild a life together.

But Freya doesn’t want a fresh start – she just wants out – and Daniel drifts around the sprawling, run-down house in a dream, infuriating his father, who soon forgets the promises he has made.

Some cracks can never be smoothed over, and tension grows between Roy and Maryanne until their uneasy peace is ruptured – with devastating consequences.

Portrait of Michael Sala

Michael Sala

Michael Sala was born in the Netherlands in 1975 to a Greek father and a Dutch mother, and first came to Australia in the 1980s. He lives in Newcastle. His critically acclaimed debut, The Last Thread, won the 2013 NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing and was the regional winner (Pacific) of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. 

Judges’ report

In this remarkable novel, Michael Sala builds tension masterfully until an explosive final act. The Restorer follows husband and wife Maryanne and Roy and their children Daniel and Freya as the couple is reunited after a year apart. The family may be attempting a fresh beginning in a new city while restoring a dilapidated terrace, but the foundation of the family, like that of the house, is dangerously precarious. 

The menacing verbal and physical dance between Roy and Maryanne is disturbing and chilling. Sala allows moments of respite from the tension to offer a complex and nuanced portrait of a family negotiating a fresh start. He cleverly ties the narrative into turbulent events of 1989, both local and international, giving the novel context and grounding.

In this book, Sala interrogates familial patterns of destruction and violence. Freya’s emerging womanhood in light of her mother’s and grandmother’s life choices and constraints is explored with tenderness and sensitivity, offering glimpses of hope for a different future. Maryanne and Freya are skilfully and authentically written. Their humanity is laid bare beautifully and they resonate with the reader on a deeply personal level.

As the reader comes to find out the reasons behind the separation, the novel spirals in towards its devastating conclusion. Sala’s writing style encourages the reader to slow down and relish the details and the minutiae of, admittedly dysfunctional and dangerous, family life. This is powerful and poetic fiction that showcases a writer at the height of his powers.

Extract

The last boxes they’d brought in were soaked. The rain was coming down onto the roof in a steady downpour. Mum was peeling away the wet cardboard of each box to reveal the things inside. The lights were on in the kitchen and the dining room, naked, dusty bulbs that flickered and didn’t quite find every corner. The fridge was in place but they’d only just turned it on.

The smell of rain swept around them in a gust of life, full of the odour of sodden leaves and ocean and warm road that hadn’t been wet for a long time. The front door slammed shut. Dad was stamping his feet in the hall and coughing. He dropped his work boots on the wood one after the other. The first flash of lightning blazed through the kitchen and a rumble shook through the ground.

'Jesus,' Dad said, a kind of pleasure in his tone. 'That was close.'

While the rain intensified outside, and the shadows lengthened across and between them, they ate a hurried dinner of sandwiches and salad that Mum had packed hours ago and taken in a cooler, and then kept unpacking. Another crackling boom rattled the windows. The light bulbs swayed and flickered. Daniel was on his feet, hugging Mum around the waist.'It’s okay,' Mum told him. 'We’re inside. We’re all safe.'

Mum put a hand on his head, then returned to opening the boxes. She found the candles, and held them up, just as the next crack of thunder split through the rhythm of the rain. A burst of light filled the room and Freya saw everyone as if in a black and white photograph; Dad, a drill and a rag in his hands, his eyes in the shadow of his forehead, Mum beside the table, her hand on Daniel’s head buried again into her side. Then both the bulbs sizzled into death, and the house, like the world beyond the windows, fell into darkness.

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