Sally Breen’s The Casuals was garnering interest for years before it hit bookshelves in July 2011. It won the Australia Council for the Arts Emerging Author Literature Grant in 2006 and the Varuna Manuscript Development Program in 2008. With so much opportunity to refine her work, Breen was expected to deliver. And, for the most part, she does.
Her memoir stirs up images of Brisbane in the 80’s and 90’s, and if you grew up in this era it’s almost like you can feel the book winking slyly at you, to which you’ll nod and say, ‘I remember what that was like, back then’. For those readers whose childhood exists in another era, or away from Brisbane, Breen’s book is an interesting perspective into the River City in the final years of last century. More than this, though, it explores Breen’s coming-of-age and the loss of her father to cancer.
In parts, you might be tempted to put down Breen’s book for a while and take some air. That’s okay. The writing is heavy and the events on the page are in turn self-destructive, exhausting and melancholy. But make sure you pick it up again. Even if you, like me, get hit with a heavy bout of glandular fever midway through the book. Keep reading it. If you don’t, you might miss the book’s true triumph, which is the manner in which Breen writes about her father’s death.
Breen manages to make her reader understand the thoughts and feelings she had about her loss, without ever claiming to understand them herself. It’s been this relationship between Breen and her father that has pulled the book along up until his death, and the echoes of it continue to do so after the fact. Her writing here is sad and honest and at its most beautiful, completely untouched by the pages and pages about drugs and sex and popular culture that envelope it.
It is Breen’s own story, but there is universality to it – to the suburban childhood in a familiar era, to loss and to grief – that will resonate with most readers.