The Trivia Man is the fourth novel by Australian visual artist, teacher and author, Deborah O’Brien. Ever since he can remember, Kevin Dwyer has liked facts and figures more than people: facts and figures he can master, put into order, record in his notebooks; with people, he always feels like an alien, unable to decipher the nuances of language, gesture, or intonation. He’s perfectly suited to his job as a forensic accountant, and trivia quizzes are his favourite (make that “only”) leisure activity.
It’s no surprise that Kevin buys a weather station and a log book for his nephew, Patrick’s eighth birthday. After all, this is what brought him hours of enjoyment at that age. Kevin and Patrick share the same love of learning and recording what happens in the world around them. Patrick’s mother, Beth (everyone calls her Elizabeth or Lizzie, but Kevin doesn’t notice that) just thinks her brother’s peculiar.
Elizabeth is worried that Kevin has an addiction to trivia competitions: three a week is surely not normal, especially as he competes alone. She advises him to join a team, hoping it will force him to interact more with other people. After his One-Man Band team wins Week One of the Clifton Heights Sports Club Autumn/Winter Trivia Competition, several of the other teams try to entice him to join with them, but Kevin is not tempted.
High school language teacher, Maggie Taylor has only agreed to join Teddy and the Dreamers for Week Two of the competition as a favour to her friend Carole: she can’t imagine she’ll enjoy it, with Carole’s insufferably arrogant husband, Edward as team leader, and intends to bow out at the first opportunity. But it’s not as bad as she’d expected, and chatting with Kevin during the break, she’s fascinated by his job, and manages to recruit him onto the Dreamers team.
What a wonderful tale O’Brien gives the reader: the plot is entirely believable; the characters feel like those you know from work or school or the pub; their hopes, fears and failures are what concern us all. Readers will be pleased that Maggie finally sees sense, that Patrick finds a friend, that Kevin doesn’t end up throwing something very important away.
O’Brien explores what it means to be different in a world that doesn’t tolerate non-conformity well. The story is told from four different perspectives, and the “misfits” experience is well portrayed. And the generous dose of trivia included in each chapter is great fun. Funny, sweet and moving, this is a delightful read.