We are told that this is a "contemporary retelling of the Ned Kelly story", but the expression does little for a story that is able to stand on its own two feet. In a note at the end, we learn that there are some phrases that are third cousins to those found in the Jerilderie Letter, but that hardly constitutes a "retelling" and indeed, if it was described as an update of the Bonnie and Clyde story, it would be more helpful.
Let's start at the beginning. "Sid had promised that Datsun was gold to be honest it wasn't even bronze but what did I care I must have been only four or five years old the day we collected Sid's car from Wyoming and drove it the long way home just the two of us Sid and me ..."
The speaker is the eponymous Red of the title, and she is the narrator throughout. She rations out her full stops and doesn't use commas or semi-colons or quotation marks, even when she is in her mid-teens towards the end of the book.
The result would be an interesting study for the psychologists who tell us that we only skim what we read, because you are forced to read this more slowly. The other feature of the book is that when Red or some of her characters uses a rude word, it is wholly or partly blacked-out in the text.
Sid and Red - her real name is Ruby - are the McCoys, residents in the New South Wales town of Wyoming. He works irregularly and when he does, usually manages to include some form of illegal activity. The problem is that the police are corrupt, particularly the Sergeant, a most outrageous creation named Trevor Healy.
The setting is the final decade of the century recently passed and the early years of the current one; it is doubtful, even knowing what we now know about some NSW police activities back in the day, whether Healy and his mates could have got away with what is described here.
The dispute between the McCoys and the Healys goes back a generation. As told by Sid, it shows his family in a good light. Towards the end, Red realises that she can have little faith in anything her father tells her.
The same goes for stories by her pal Stevie Madigan, same age but from a more respectable family. At one stage, she saves him from drowning and as a reward his mother gives her a book, The Golden Treasury of Greek Mythology, which she uses as a kind of moral compass.
You need to read this book slowly, almost in one sitting, because it is easy to lose the thread of the story. The writing sparkles in places, and the bits from the Jerilderie Letter pale beside the author's own. "It was so dry the trees would bribe a dog," is my favourite. Just forget Ned Kelly.
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