I love a gutsy character in the books I read, one that sticks to what they believe in no matter what. Me & Rory Macbeath by Richard Beasley arrived on my desk a few weeks back and once I had read the prologue, I knew this one was for me. The relationship between mother and son is immediately established and I liked the sound of both of them and was immediately curious about Harry, the mother, and how her son admired her fearlessness.
We hear this story from Jake, who is a young boy who lives on Rose Ave with his mother Harry. It is the seventies and they live in suburban Adelaide. In the summer before Jake and his friends start high school he finds his world shifts with the arrival of a new boy on Rose Ave called Rory Macbeath. Jake is at first unsure of Rory and feels he has nothing to connect with him about, but his best friend Robbie seems to like him and Jake worries that “the friendship might never be a triumvirate. I was, after all, Scotland-less, and didn’t know my Rangers or my Celtics from my Arsenal.” Robbie’s parents are from Glasgow and the boys have quickly learned that is where Rory’s family is from and so Jake feels the bonds shift.
The summer holidays are filled with playing ball games, going to the local pool and going fishing, (it is here that Jake’s opinion of Rory starts to change when he sees Rory’s skills in fishing and admits “There was a point to Rory Macbeath after all.”) we also meet Lucy who lives next door to Jake and we start getting to know the other residents in the street. I liked this slow revelation of the people in the street, Robbie’s dad the policeman, his mum and sister, Lucy’s step mum and father, Mr Nixon and Mr Kincaid, Eddie & his sister, Rory’s parents Donald and Laura, his brother Iain and sister Heather. As Jake observed “All families in a street take centre stage for a while. It was the Macbeaths now who were the curiosity, all of them but Rory still strange and unknown to the rest of us.”
All through this Harry, who is a barrister looms large with her gutsy character and fierce love for Jake. There is a certain maturity to Jake and you can see this is due to his relationship to his mother and the way she speaks to him. When Jake is shocked by something he sees and tells her, he thinks to himself, “I wasn’t sure anymore that I’d seen what I’d seen, but Harry was sure. She believed me.” He has been going to court with her for years and clearly thinks about what he sees and questions it. So when Rose Avenue’s peace is shattered one evening, it is Harry who comes to the fore with her legal skills and her big heart and it is Jake who feels pulled by his loyalty to his mother, what he feels is right and an oath to Rory Macbeath. “There were some things I could say to Harry, mean or angry things, and I could take them back. But they were said to her as my mum, not as a lawyer. If I told her the truth about what happened at the Macbeaths’, I could never take it back. And she could never pretend I hadn’t said it.”
Thinking about this book, it is the strong bonds present and formed between the characters that make it such a fabulous story. The life of a street, lived both outside and inside behind closed doors and all that it entails resonates through Jake’s story. Reflecting on the impact that Rory had on his young life, he realises why he liked him so much was that “He was a lot like Harry. They weren’t scared of anything.”