Set in 1950s Australia amid the consequences of the age of empires, this brilliantly vivid and lively novel reminds us how Europeans took possession of a timeless culture – the high purpose they invented and the crimes they committed along the way. Here are some discussion points to jump-start the conversation at your next reading group meet-up.
Discussion points and questions:
- A Long Way from Home is several potent stories in one: which do you consider the most important?
- It’s been said of this novel that it goes from ‘a laugh a minute to The Heart of Darkness’. Discuss the multiple directions it takes after the part titled ‘A Fork in the Road’, and the changes in tone that accompany these.
- What early clues are there that Willie isn’t from where he thinks he is?
- How typical do you find Irene’s character of Australian women in the 1950s?
- Compare the various father–son relationships in the novel. What do you think of Titch’s loyalty to Dan? Is he, as Irene says, ‘his father’s dog’? (page 161)
- Discuss the way in which the Redex Trial propels the action in this novel.
- A Long Way from Home includes a poignant depiction of Irene and Titch’s apparently ideal marriage falling apart. Discuss the trajectory of this, and the way in which it’s signposted. Is one of them more at fault than the other, in your opinion?
- Once Irene sees that Titch isn’t the person she thought he was, her familiar home territory around Bacchus Marsh quickly becomes ‘a different world’ (page 267). Is her sense of home perhaps driven more by people than by place? Consider the treatment given the concept of home, and homeland, elsewhere in the novel.
- Sebastian Laski believes Willie has a talent for finding trouble (page 320). Do you agree?
- On one level the novel might be said to capture a certain nostalgia, the original meaning of which was ‘severe homesickness considered as a disease’. What are your thoughts on this in relation to A Long Way from Home?
- Consider the scene on pages 25–27 in which Willie ponders how to teach his class about refugees and displaced persons: what parallels are drawn with the present situation?
- What do you make of the phantoms referenced in the novel? Those Willie sees on the road when driving at night, those Irene can feel beneath her feet on the Nullarbor, and the ‘phantom homesickness that gave its distinctive colour’ to Willie’s soul (page 278).
- Consider the role played by maps in this novel, both actually and metaphorically, both the maps used by Europeans and the ‘paths of ancestral beings’ that connect places in Aboriginal culture.
- Willie is sentenced to ten years in jail for assaulting Carter while the latter goes unpunished for rape, as do other white characters. Discuss the manner in which the novel imparts details such as this.
- Discuss any thematic continuation you see between A Long Way from Home and Peter Carey’s earlier works.
- On page 352 Neil describes the policies of white Australia as ethnic cleansing. Do you agree with him?
- The final sentence of A Long Way from Home is a particularly powerful and beautiful one. Discuss its impact, especially in terms of Willie’s commitment to recording his newfound culture while at the same time respecting the ownership of it.