Hugh Twycross has it all figured out. He’s a Sydney private school boy on a mission . . . a mission to get good grades, become a concert cellist and keep impressing his mother and father with his budding brilliance. And if that means keeping his lust for Holden muscle cars a secret, then so be it.
And then Poppy turns up. Outside Hugh’s private school gates, Poppy looks like a hippy cultist and he has some wild claims about being Hugh’s grandfather . . . a grandfather Hugh was always told had died years ago.
More than that, Poppy has some wild plans about going to The Rock. Ayers Rock. Uluru. No time to pack or delay, because Poppy has a Holden Monaro GTS 350 ready and rearing to go. . . and Hugh can never say no to Holden.
Phillip Gwynne’s novel is a glorious ode to the Australian outback, and an opus dedicated to the Aussie muscle car. I got so caught up in this novel that it felt as though I'd jumped in to ride shotgun with Hugh and Poppy – feeling the thrill of the ride and the purr of the engine for 228 pages of thrilling car chases and majestic scenery. . . and when I got to that last page, I just wanted to go back and ride all over again.
Hugh is a fantastic leading man. He is, by his own admission, a ner (not quite a nerD, but just inexperienced enough with girls to be cutting it damn close). When Hugh meets Poppy his world is turned upside down. In this old man, Hugh discovers his roots and an explanation for his inherited love of cars and Holden patriotism. Though Poppy is not the sort of person Hugh’s well-to-do Sydney-sider parents want him associating with, he is inexplicably drawn to the old man.
Hugh and Poppy’s dynamic is, without a doubt, the stand-out heart-warmer of this book. Poppy as an old-timer with stories to tell and a past he’s still trying to race away from. . . and his geeky grandson who needs to loosen up. As Poppy puts it;
“My aim is to see if I can make my grandson look less like a member of the Young Liberals and more like a teenager,”
Gwynne’s book is a pretty harmless Young Adult read. Sure, Hugh develops a crush on a hitch-hiking *** called Bella. And, yes, Hugh and Poppy are chased down by a gun-wielding body-builder and his ***-star girlfriend . . . but all in all, ‘Swerve’ is a bit of good, clean fun. A story about a grandfather making up for lost time and a boy who needed to leave his comfort zone.
‘Swerve’ is also a brilliant bit of Aussie storytelling. Uluru is a majesty of Australian landscape. . . but the real scenery comes from towns like Bathurst and Coober Pedy, as Gwynne tells tale of typical Aussie life and times. There are heart-warming tales of camaraderie and mateship on the road, as well as stories that cut it a little too close to Wolf Creek
for comfort. And always with the red dust in the backdrop, the endless kilometres of bitumen and freedom;
And, finally, the saltbush-tufted plains stretching out to the left and to the right and the horizon ahead broken by a purple range ridged like a lizard’s tail, Poppy and I sitting in chairs watching whirly-whirlies shot through with afternoon light as they dance a pas de deux, spiralling towards and away from each other.
‘Swerve’ was one hell of a joyride. A tale of familial relationships rekindled with a typical and truthful Outback backdrop. Glorious.