“A few cars slowed, and heads turned and looked at the house, mouths flapping and fingers pointing out the poor kiddies’ house, looking so normal, like everyone else’s. They would have to find other ways of observing the Rileys’ suffering, of tasting their despair without swallowing it, of hearing and smelling and touching what they’d all known in imperceptibly small doses. 7A was a nightmare. A fairytale. A morality tale. A horror story with wilting agapanthus”
Time’s Long Ruin is the third novel by award-winning Australian author, Stephen Orr. During Adelaide’s oven-hot summer of 1960, nine-year-old Henry Page and his best friend (and next-door-neighbour) Janice Riley fill their days with hide-and-seek, cricket, reading, writing stories and visits to the beach. Janice’s younger siblings, seven-year-old Anna and four-year-old Gavin, are often part of the action. Home chores have to be done, and Henry likes to help out Con Pedavoli with the level-crossing gates and Doctor George Gunn with his library.
Henry idolises his dad, Detective Constable Bob Page: Bob and neighbour Bill Riley often discuss the mysterious case of the Somerton Man, and Henry listens in, sure his Dad will one day solve it. Then, on Australia Day, Henry decides not to go to the beach with his best friend and her siblings: the three never return, and life on Thomas Street, Croydon turns upside down.
Orr divides his tale into two parts: the first proceeds at a steady pace as Henry’s narration sets the scene; the second starts on the day the children go missing, and details the devastating effect that the disappearance of the three children has on the neighbourhood. Henry’s narrative is quite subjective: he often surmises what other players in the drama would have thought and said; in Part Two, he regularly talks to Janice, who visits him often to comment on events, but never reveals her true fate.
Considering his own age, Orr manages to convey the 1960 Adelaide summer with amazing accuracy. The moods, attitudes and common practices of the day are also expertly rendered. The unsolved disappearance of the Beaumont Children is quite obviously the basis of the story: the names, dates and locations are only slightly altered. Guilt and blame feature large in the story, but it also touches on depression, friendship and loyalty, the effect of mechanisation, grief, paedophilia and rough justice A powerful read.