Architect Joe Warton and his partner Anne are easing into comfortable semi-retirement when Joe notices gaps in his memory. At first he keeps his discovery to himself, becoming skilful at hiding his alarm and lying when caught out. Eventually he tells Anne and their daughter Claire and his best mate Eric. Together they confront the spectre of looming early-onset dementia. This is a topical and often funny story told from the perspectives of multiple characters, with Steve Hawke’s dedication to his mum Hazel a poignant reminder that we are all affected by loss and in particular, the loss of a dear one’s memory. The questions it poses are not easy ones, and the solutions it offers are tragic at best. A timely novelistic imagining of what life and death might look like if euthanasia laws were to include mental deterioration in addition to terminal illness.
About the author
Steve Hawke is a playwright, children’s author, biographer and novelist. He is also the son of Bob and Hazel Hawke. Steve grew up in Melbourne and lived in the Kimberley for many years before settling in the Perth hills. He cites witnessing his mum’s descent into “the badlands of dementia” as fundamental to his reasons for writing Out of Time. This is his second novel for adults.
Questions for discussion
- Brenda Walker describes this novel as “a late-life love story”. What are your thoughts about how the author portrays the lives and loves of the two main protagonists, Joe and Anne, in this novel?
- How does Joe’s relationship with Anne change over the course of a couple of years as he realises he may be losing his mind?
- Discuss the threads of friendship/mateship that run through the novel, in particular through the character of Eric.
- How does the character Eric serve as social and political commentary in addition to his function as best mate to Joe?
- The main characters in this novel are a couple approaching 60, with much to look forward to. How does the author communicate the sense of urgency, lost opportunity and a sense that life is also beginning for them as well as ending?
- What do you think of Claire’s portrayal as the rebellious daughter but submissive wife?
- How does this novel generate ideas about making end-of-life choices and do you think ethical and moral dilemmas such as this require extensive discussion?
- Joe is a difficult man, and in some ways quintessentially Australian in his denial of reality, as well as fiercely protective of the women in his life, while expecting his best mate to be responsive to his changing mental status. How do you read him? Is he a sympathetic character?
- Do you think the ending was inevitable given the several clues placed along the way? What might have been an alternate ending?
If you liked this book, you may also like…
The Shark Net, Robert Drewe, Penguin Books
Elsewhere in Success, Iris Lavell, Fremantle Press
The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss, various contributors, edited by Terry Whitebeach & Gina Mercer, Ginninderra Press
The Seamstress, Geraldine Wooller, UWA Publishing