REVIEW: NO PLACE LIKE HOME BY CAROLINE OVERINGTON

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Author: Caroline Overington
Bantam Australia RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan 

No Place Like Home, Caroline OveringtonWhen invited to take part in a blog tour for Caroline Overington’s latest novel, I couldn’t say no. I’ve read all of this talented author’s books and found them to be gritty, topical reads that rival Jodi Picoult in the “make you think” stakes. Last year I had the opportunity to interview her (see here) and I’m glad to say her latest novel is another thinker. Politically relevant (especially in Australia) and astutely written, No Place Like Home, will challenge readers, especially those who sit “on the fence” when it comes to asylum seekers.

Shortly after 9.30 in the morning, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie and his behaviour is erratic enough to make other shoppers notice and alert security, who make their way to apprehend him. Before they can get there, he is dragged into a lingerie shop by a retail worker who thinks she’s helping the young man; security lock the doors, trapping the young man and four innocent bystanders. That’s when the retail worker notices the bomb around the young man’s neck.

The discovery has everyone on tenterhooks. Police are standing by and hostage negotiations begin. Soon, however, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary siege. The boy, known as Ali Khan, seems as frightened as his hostages and has yet to utter a single word. Is the bomb real? What’s Ali Khan’s motive? Who is behind this? The seconds tick by for the five in the shop: Mitchell, the talented schoolboy; Mouse, the shop assistant; Kimmi, the nail-bar technician; and Roger Callaghan, the real estate agent whose reason for being in Bondi that day is far from innocent. The seconds tick by for police chaplain Paul Doherty, called to the scene by Superintendent Boehm, and wondering whether Ali Khan is a victim himself. And the seconds tick by for Ali Khan, who has only ever wanted a place to call home. Will the negotiations end with everyone safe, or will the outcome be tragic?

Told some months after the event from the viewpoint of Doherty, No Place Like Home is a thought-provoking story that leaves a lingering feeling of sadness. It’s clear early on there is no happy ending. Instead of everything being neatly wrapped up with a warm and fuzzy ending, Overington chooses to confront readers with considering their own attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees – are we compassionate or judgmental? It’s almost as if this is a platform for Overington to share her personal belief that more compassion is needed from people who in all probability will never experience what most asylum seekers do. Imagine if this was a real story, not a novel. Would we immediately judge someone like Ali Khan, call him a terrorist or an evil person, based on the bomb and hostage situation? Or would we pause to consider that there is always more to the story? To me, that’s the greatest message of this story, yet it’s relayed carefully, with understanding that readers will have many different perspectives based on their own experience.

Overington’s writing is assured and insightful, and her protagonist well chosen. As a journalist, Overington has a strength in taking a topical issue and turning it into something readers can’t avoid. No Place Like Home attracted me for two reasons – the writer, a must-read for me, and the issue, which is close to my heart. As with her earlier novels, this one hooked me and led me down one path, only to knock me over with the twist at the end. If you haven’t given Overington’s books a try yet, I highly recommend them.

The next stop in the No Place Like Home blog tour is Shellyrae’s Book’d Out. Check it out – lots of great reviews there. No Place Like Home is available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House via NetGalley.

Bookish treat: After reading this, I needed something cheery. I went with popcorn, my standby reading snack.